Drug-takers in grip of 'super speed'

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The Independent Online
AMPHETAMINE users looking for a stronger "hit" are turning to a highly potent substance which is being linked to heart failure, psychotic problems and the spread of HIV and hepatitis.

Drugs agencies are increasingly concerned by the growing popularity of the stimulant. Known by the street name of "paste", it is up to 20 times stronger than other forms of amphetamines. The grey-coloured sludge, which smells of solvents, is being produced from industrial chemicals in crude laboratories in kitchens and garden sheds.

Doctors fear that the availability of paste will lead to large numbers of "recreational" amphetamine users developing addictions with major physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Because the paste is so strong, users quickly build up a level of resistance which means they must take it on a staggeringly frequent basis. Heavy amphetamine users told The Independent on Sunday that they had injected the drug up to 16 times a day.

Police drugs experts say that the health and crime problems resulting from Britain's growing amphetamine use are being overlooked while attention is focused on more fashionable drugs such as heroin, cocaine and ecstasy. The lack of official interest in amphetamine may also be due to it being seen as a problem most prevalent in provincial towns and cities. The main areas of use are in the south, south-west, the Midlands and Wales.

Home Office statistics show that the number of police seizures of amphetamine have increased by 167 per cent in the past five years and that the amount seized has increased by more than 500 per cent. Generally snorted or swallowed as a white powder, it is Britain's most widely used illegal drug after cannabis. The purity of the powder, which is frequently cut with substances like flour or glucose, has tumbled to as little as 2 per cent in recent years.

By contrast, paste has a purity of between 40 and 70 per cent. The emergence of paste - which is also known by those who use it as "base" - is identified in a paper shortly to be published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

The author, consultant psychiatrist Philip Fleming, runs a pioneering clinic in Portsmouth which prescribes amphetamine to those who have developed a major dependency on the drug.

He said he was concerned by the emergence of paste. "It is many times more pure than street amphetamine and, at the end of the day, people are taking larger and larger quantities," he said.

The Dexamphetamine Prescribing Programme, which is run by Portsmouth Healthcare Trust's Substance Misuse Service, at the moment has 29 clients, and has helped to stabilise the lives of nearly 100 addicts. Those who inject the drug have been weaned away from needles by receiving a daily oral prescription of amphetamine, which is produced under licence and is free of the contaminants with which the street drug is cut.

Glen, 30, first tried amphetamine powder, or "speed", as a 15-year-old looking to bolster his self-confidence. He developed a pounds 1,000- a-week habit - partly funded by fraud - and by the time he joined the prescribing programme had 62 injecting points in his body.

He knows nine users who have died in the past two years and is well aware of the risks of paste. "If you inject it, the rush is so intense that you have to stop halfway because you won't be able to breathe," he said. He describes the prescription programme as "a life-saver".

Amphetamine first emerged in Britain in the 1930s as an over-the-counter medicine to treat nasal congestion. In the Second World War it was given to troops to keep them awake. It was withdrawn from retail pharmacies in 1968 but is still occasionally used in hospitals as a stimulant. The drug can be produced with A-level knowledge of chemistry using industrial products which are legally available in Britain.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service, which co-ordinates the battle against synthetic drug production, said that 10 illicit laboratories were raided and closed down in Britain every year.

Peter Miles of the NCIS drugs desk said: "Amphetamine paste is an incredibly powerful stimulant. Addiction will probably come quicker; they will have to commit more crime and there could be more violence because it is a very, very hyper drug."