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Banning so-called 'legal highs' including mephedrone led to a fall in the number of queries on how to treat users, poisoning experts have found

The National Poisons Information Service, which is commissioned by the Health Protection Agency (HPA), is the first port of call for frontline medics needing assistance on dealing with any kind of poisoning.

In the service's annual report, which is published today, figures reveal that monthly total queries about mephedrone dropped sharply after April 2010 - when the substance was officially classified as a Class B drug under misuse of drug regulations.

Monthly telephone queries about the drug peaked in March 2010 at about 120, but since January this year they were down to ten or fewer.

Enquiries relating to naphyrone and 'Ivory Wave' preparations increased after mephedrone was banned but also fell away after steps were taken to control availability - the Home Office announced last month that desoxypipradrol, which has been identified in 'Ivory Wave' preparations, was being made a Class B substance.

"The data we have relates to the total number of queries we have about treating poisonings from drugs previously known as 'legal highs'," said Professor Simon Thomas, director of NPIS' Newcastle unit.

"So we cannot say that use has declined. But what we can say is that queries to us from doctors and nurses declined at precisely the time the substances were banned. So it would appear to us that recommendations made by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and implemented by Government have had the desired effect.

"Of course following the ban, the media's focus on mephedrone died down and this may also have contributed to the reductions in enquiry numbers."

Other key findings in this year's report include;


  • The service received more than 286 phone inquiries for assistance and information following carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • A survey of antidote availability in hospitals found that although most hospitals stock the most commonly used antidotes, only a third had supplies for treating organophosphorus insecticide poisoning and only half had stocks of viper venom antiserum. A small minority carried no antidote for cyanide poisoning.
  • Poisonings by toxic alcohols and glycols was one of the most common reasons for referral to an NPIS consultant. During 2010 there were more than 600 enquiries on these substances. In 99 cases an antidote was required. The laboratory assays and antidotes needed for managing this type of poisoning were inconsistently available.
  • There were 38,000 hits to the information held on NPIS' online database TOXBASE, which is only available to medical professionals, concerning exposure to drugs and chemicals in pregnancy.

During the period covered by the annual report NPIS received around 510,000 online enquiries, and around 51,000 telephone enquiries. The period also saw NPIS write or revise almost 4,000 entries on its online database TOXBASE.

Dr John Cooper, director of the HPA's Centre for Radiation, Chemicals and Environmental Hazards, said: "Once again NPIS' annual report has highlighted some interesting issues. Among them is the continuing number of queries on Carbon Monoxide poisonings and an increasing number of queries about pregnant women's exposure to drugs and chemicals. Because of its unique position in the UK healthcare system NPIS is well placed to flag up such issues at an early stage and get medical professionals considering what, if any, action is required in these areas."

Source: HPA

Written by Scott Buckler
Wednesday, 05 October 2011 11:11

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