Major Swansea conference on legal highs and new and emerging drugs
THE wave of new drugs coming into Wales could be an even bigger problem than meow meow, according to one of the country's leading experts.
Delegates from across Britain and Ireland are meeting in Swansea today to discuss the growing problem of "new and emerging" drugs and so-called legal highs.
The past 12 months has seen a surge in the use of such substances in communities across South Wales, including Swansea, Llanelli, Barry and Newport.
Many of the drugs are manufactured in labs overseas — especially in China — and sold online with no controls.
Ifor Glyn, chief executive of Sands Cymru — formerly the Swansea Drugs Project — said there was growing concern about the harm that could be caused by the new drugs.
He said: "Legal highs or new and emerging drugs could become a real problem in Wales — even greater than what we have seen with mephedrone — meow meow. There are so many new drugs available and they are so easy to get hold of.
"Helping agencies and the police were caught out by the way mephedrone become so widely available during the past 18 months in parts of Wales — we must be more prepared for the emergence of any new drugs and the associated physical and psychological health problems and the drain on police resources.
"These new drugs are appearing regularly and we do need to be in a position to prevent, treat and apprehend. We cannot afford to just ignore the issue."
New and emerging drugs are chemicals which alter the normal brain functioning and are not controlled by existing drugs laws.
Many are labelled as plant food, bath salts or "not for human consumption" as a way of getting around the UK's medicine laws.
Often there is no way of knowing what chemicals are in the drugs, how pure they are or what effect they were have on those who take them.
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the number of these new drugs has risen from 13 in 2008 to more than 70, while the number of websites selling them has rocketed from 170 to 690 in the last two years.
Today's conference in the Marriott Hotel will hear from leading experts from all over the UK and Ireland regarding the extent of the problem, the effects of these drugs, enforcement and alternative strategies.
Mr Glynn said: "These drugs do pose new risks and challenges.
"It's not a matter of if but when we see the effects on individuals and communities in Wales. It is already a problem and is likely to get worse."