ESCALATING use of party drugs by youngsters in Yorkshire is leaving scores with severe health problems usually suffered by the elderly, experts are warning.
Police say use of the drugs has tripled in the region in the past few years amid growing fears about a surge in the recently banned high mephedrone, known as meow meow, which a report this week revealed was linked with more than 40 deaths in 2010 – eight times as many as the previous year.
Health workers in Leeds say they are also witnessing rocketing cases caused by the now banned drug ketamine which leaves users with diseased bladders, forcing them to go to the toilet many times a day. In some cases, the organ has been removed altogether.
With hundreds of strains of legal highs now on the streets of Yorkshire and children as young as 14 being hospitalised for taking them, police admit the landscape is like nothing they have witnessed before.
West Yorkshire Police drugs co-ordinator Bryan Dent said: “This is a problem which exists in every community throughout West Yorkshire.
“This is not about deprivation or class. Mephedrone and ketamine use cuts across all aspects of society.
“The use of these drugs and other psychoactive substances has exploded in the past few years and continues to explode.
“What we are seeing now with ketamine is a product of its rise a few years go.
“The current climate is the most difficult it has ever been.
“We are dealing with substances which have unknown health effects in the long-term and short-term.
“Young people are playing Russian roulette with their health by taking these drugs.
“The treatment services are telling us they are seeing a significant increase in young people who have used mephedrone or ketamine.”
Since mephedrone was made a banned Class B drug in 2010, police figures show the number of arrests for possession have nearly doubled in two years.
Mr Dent said the 183 arrests made by West Yorkshire Police for mephedrone possession already this year are “only the tip of the iceberg”, with several deaths being linked to the drug in the county.
“It is steadily increasing and we are worried about it,” he added.
Toni Williams, a specialised registrar in public health seconded to West Yorkshire Police, said there is now increasing concern among the medical profession about the extent to which ketamine bladder syndrome is affecting young people.
Owing to the nature of the symptoms, it is believed many young sufferers are reluctant to come forward and seek help.
“Up until a few years ago we hadn’t seen any of these cases,” she added.
“Now just in Leeds every few months we see people suffering from serious bladder damage as a result of ketamine use.
“It is a really unpleasant condition and in some cases people have had their bladder removed.
“These are young people who are left with the bladders of old-age pensioners.”
The National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths report released this week, revealed the biggest increase in drug deaths related to mephedrone, with cases rising from five deaths in 2009, to 43 the following year.
The report warned the drug had now “tightened its grip on the recreational drug scene in Western Europe, but in particular in Britain.
“The rapidity with which these new substances have emerged appears to be at an increasing rate,” it added.
“It is now difficult to gauge with any certainty what will be the next ‘big thing’.”
Despite the rise in legal highs, overall the number of drug- related deaths in England fell by almost 14 per cent to 1,883 in 2010 from 2,182 the previous year.
Professor Hamid Ghodse, director of the International Centre for Drug Policy at St George’s Hospital, London, which released the report, said: “There are indications that there is still a general upward trend in fatalities involving emerging drugs such as mephedrone and prescription drugs such as methadone.
“This is a great concern and it is clear that much work is still required in improving access to effective treatment and rehabilitation services, and, most importantly, finding prevention strategies to stop people being at risk in the first place.”