Nationwide alert over deadly crystal meth hitting UK streets

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The Independent Online

Ministers are planning to tighten the laws on the highly addictive drug crystal meth amid fears that its use is on the increase in Britain. Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, will this week highlight the dangers of the drug and promise a review of its class B status in response to warnings from police and health experts.

This crackdown on "ice", as the drug is also known, comes as the Government is also expected to announce its decision on the classification of cannabis.

Meth, or methamphetamine, has become popular among gay men, with an estimated one in five in London now using the mood enhancer on a casual basis.

There are concerns that meth could become more popular than crack cocaine. Meth is the most addictive and destructive drug on the black market in the US, where it has wrecked many lives. The American singer Rufus Wainwright, who was temporarily blinded by the drug, is among celebrities who have admitted overcoming an addiction.

Senior police officers believe the drug, which can be made with inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients, is being manufactured in the UK.

An internal report by Scotland Yard identified Hampshire and London as two areas where they suspect illicit production is taking place.

Users claim that the drug, which is many times more potent than ecstasy or cocaine, can give an artificial high for as long as 10 hours, as well as causing dramatic weight loss. It has also been called a sex drug because users claim it increases arousal.

But its side effects can be devastating, including psychosis and heart and lung problems. According to US researchers, the stimulant, which is snorted, injected or taken in pill form, can also cause tooth loss and extreme violence.

In towns across the US, the drug has created a whole generation of "meth orphans", children whose addict parents have either ended up in jail, in hospital or have killed themselves.

The extent of meth use in Britain is not yet fully known but the Government's drugs body, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, has published a report stating that its use should be closely monitored. It has also recommended that drug-related deaths should be analysed to see if meth was a factor.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has launched an extensive review of the impact of the white, odourless substance and its harmful effects. Andy Hayman, the chairman of the ACPO drugs committee and assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, said: "This research will continue the work already undertaken to identify intelligence relating to meth."

Richard Cazaly, who was named by police as the man responsible for stabbing Abigail Witchalls, was known to use the drug.

The Terrence Higgins Trust is planning an awareness campaign about the dangers of meth, which it says is a concern among the gay community, and called for more research to be carried out. "The health effects can be quite severe and there is concern for regular users," said Rod Watson, a spokesman.

Originally used in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers, meth was developed early this century from amphetamine as an appetite suppressant.

From battle to the street: the uses of meth

Crystal methamphetamine is a class B man-made stimulant which comes either as a white crystalline powder or solid

STREET NAMES of the powder include "crank" or "speed", while the solid is known as "glass", "ice", "crystal meth" and "meth".

FIRST SYNTHESISED in Japan in 1919 by the chemist A Ogata.

ADMINISTERED AS Pervatin to both Allied and Axis soldiers during the Second World War to help them endure the strains of battle.

RUMOURED TO have been used by Hitler during the last five years of his life.

USUALLY SMOKED using glass pipes , similar to those used for crack cocaine but can also be snorted. Half a gram costs around £25.

PRODUCES AN euphoric high lasting 6-8 hours, with an increase in energy and a reduction in inhibition.

APART FROM being highly addictive, meth can also cause weight loss, mental confusion and death.

ILLEGAL FORMS produced on home-made equipment (pictured below) often produce a smell of ammonia.

DOCTORS CAN prescribe the drug legally as a temporary treatment for obesity.