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'Club drug' abuse on the rise

Addiction to so-called 'club drugs' has risen in the past six years, figures from the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) show.

Last year 6,486 people (4,479 adults, 2,007 under-18s) were treated for a 'club drug' - up from the 2005-06 figure of 4,656 (3,122 adults, 1,534 under-18s).

However, users of these 'club drugs' such as ketamine and mephedrone make up just 2% of adults in treatment and 10% of young people in specialist services.

Ecstasy remains the most commonly treated 'club drug', although the number of new adults entering treatment halved, from around 2,000 in 2005-06 to just over 1,000 last year.

Despite the rise in those seeking treatment for addiction to club drugs', overall drug use has declined in England.

“It is clear that some club drug users are developing serious health problems and even dependency,” said Paul Hayes, chief executive of NTA.

“While drug use overall is falling, there is an increase in the number of people turning to treatment for club drugs. The numbers remain small compared to heroin and crack addiction, but services need to be geared up to meet these emerging needs.”

The report Club drugs: emerging trends and risks shows 'club drug' users do well when they seek treatment. During the past 12 months, 61% of adults who left treatment for 'club drug' use did so having completed their programme “successfully”.

However, such drugs can have “harmful effects”. For example, heavy use of ketamine can turn into dependency with physical effects such as bladder pain and damage, experts claim.

“This group of substances can result in harmful effects such as bladder damage and psychosis,” said psychiatrist Owen Bowden Jones who founded the Club Drug Clinic managed by Central and North west London NHS Foundation.

“However treatment can be very effective and we have seen some excellent results, with people overcoming a range of complicated physical and psychological problems.

“While overall the drug treatment system has made tremendous gains in recent years, particularly in tackling heroin and crack, newer club drug use is a significant challenge and we are still learning the full extent of the resulting harms. It is important that investment in services is maintained so that appropriate support is available for those who need it.”