Police questioned on why Llanelli and Swansea are hotspot for meow
SENIOR police are to be questioned on why Llanelli and Swansea are Welsh hotspots for use of the illegal drug meow meow.
The issue is just one that Welsh Health Minister Lesley Griffiths will discuss when she meets senior South Wales Police officers.
It follows the launch of a new Welsh Government campaign highlighting the dangers of the drug mephedrone, also known as meow meow, as well as other new and emerging drugs.
Last October, organised crime police taskforce Operation Tarian named Llanelli at the top of a list of 15 hotspots for the drug in Wales, followed by Swansea.
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Ammanford, Burry Port, Carmarthen, Ystradgynlais and Briton Ferry were all also named on the list.
The new campaign comes as figures from the Welsh Police Forces Regional Intelligence Unit show use of meow meow has risen dramatically over the past six months, particularly the last three months.
The British Crime Survey also shows that mephedrone remains the fourth most prevalent drug in the UK, after cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy.
The survey estimates around 300,000 or 3.4 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds used mephedrone during 2011/12.
Ms Griffiths said: "The dramatic rise in the use of mephedrone is concerning given the serious mental and physical harm the drug can cause both in the short and long-term. As a Class B drug mephedrone carries a penalty of up to five years for possession and 14 years for supply.
"One of the aims of our campaign is to educate people about the dangers of the drug and the damage it can cause.
"The campaign also points users and their families to the Wales Drug & Alcohol Helpline, also known as DAN 24/7 for further information about mephedrone and where they can go to get help."
The drug, which is described as a mix between amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy, can cause heart palpitations, paranoia, vomiting, agitation, fits, suicidal thoughts and depression.
Its increasing use and associated violence has raised concerns with police and health officials.
Morriston Hospital A&E consultant Mike McCabe said users were often completely unaware of their actions, and that medical staff had narrowly escaped serious injuries in a number of mephedrone "near misses" at the hospital.
Last month, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board revealed it had seen an increase in the number of patients admitted to its mental health facility Cefn Coed Hospital, because mephedrone had appeared to exacerbate their mental health problems. And Swansea police Superintendent Phil Davies has also warned that officers are seeing more and more people who have taken the drug and become violent.
Magistrates have also noted more people coming before them for meow meow-related crimes.
Former soldier Jamie Birmingham, was recently jailed after being stopped by police on the M4 near Llandarcy, who found £20,000 worth of the drug in his car.
The new campaign has been timed to run with the Six Nations rugby tournament, using the strapline — "Do you know the score?"
It will feature in radio, print, leaflet and poster advertising, while beer mats will be distributed to every Wetherspoons pub in Wales during the course of the campaign.
Following the campaign, an all-Wales conference is due to be hosted by Swansea Drugs Project in March.
The conference will focus on mephedrone and other new and emerging drugs.
Swansea Drugs Project director Ifor Glyn said: "The effects we have seen in Swansea during the past year have been shocking.
"Other places haven't seen a similar increase in use. Places in England saw a peak in mephedrone use going back last year and the year before.
"We are seeing it in Wales, in particular Swansea, Llanelli and Newport, because it is cheap, readily available and is an intense drug.
"It has shocked us all.
"The way the drug has come in, I have never seen anything like it in 25 years."