Club drug problems to be tackled by NHS clinic

Rises in health problems caused by the increasing use of new club drugs have prompted the NHS to set up a specialist clinic to offer advice across the UK.

The profile of people using drugs has changed to younger, employed people who have good social networks (Photograph: iStock)

Many existing drug services are designed to treat heroin and crack cocaine addiction, but use of these drugs is falling as young people increasingly use drugs such as mephedrone and ketamine, according to the clinic's founder.

Dr Owen Bowden-Jones, consultant psychiatrist at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, said the NHS Club Drug Clinic was designed to address problems linked to club drug use.

GPs will be able to refer patients to the clinic and it will also accept self-referrals. It has been funded by a grant from NHS Central and North West London’s innovations scheme.

‘Younger people are not initiating on heroin and crack,’ Dr Owen Bowden-Jones told a media briefing this week. ‘The National Treatment Agency has seen a reduction in heroin and crack use. They talk about a "Trainspotting" generation of ageing addicts.’

About 5% of 16- to 24-year-olds have used mephedrone, according to data from the British Crime Survey. Among people who identify themselves as clubbers, about 90% have used ecstasy, 70% have used ketamine and about 40% have used mephedrone.

‘Hardly any say they’ve used crack or heroin,’ Dr Bowden-Jones said. ‘This really is the problem. Drug services in the UK are set up to treat heroin and crack, and they do that very well. But this group of patients are using a different group of drugs.’

Dr Bowden-Jones said the clinic would also provide information for health professionals about health issues associated with use of new illegal drugs. ‘There’s a real knowledge gap around these drugs and we hope this clinic will be a first step towards closing that gap,’ he said.

He added: ‘There’s an opportunity for this clinic to be an early warning system, to pick up harms that haven’t been realised elsewhere. Because we’ll have a concentration of people using these substances, we might pick up trends earlier.’

Dr Bowden-Jones said the profile of people using drugs had also changed. ‘The people using these drugs tend to be younger, employed, often affluent, often in stable relationships, often have good social networks,’ he said.

‘They don’t particularly identify themselves as drug addicts and they don’t feel that traditional heroin and crack drug services cater for their needs and therefore they don’t present for treatment.’

A similar clinic for people addicted to party drugs, and to which GPs can refer patients, was launched by South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust in 2009.

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