Jun 30


Drug Misuse – the Hazard of Dirty Needles

A public hazard facing many councils across the UK is the discarding of dirty needles, syringes and other drug-related litter (DRL) in public places such as public toilets, car parks, bus stations, residential streets, playparks, footpaths and churchyards and beaches.  In an alleyway behind one street dubbed ‘Crack Alley’ in Derbyshire (UK), over the course of one weekend in 2006 an alleged 1100 needles were recovered during a clean-up operation.  On an average weekend, between 200 and 300 used needles were reportedly routinely cleared up from this location.

Risks from Needles

Such syringes are commonly referred to as “sharps” which is the collective name for hyperdermic needles, syringes, razors and other objects that have the potential to puncture someone and infect them.  Blood borne diseases which may be passed include HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

The fear the general public has regarding discarded needles may be compounded by a lack of basic knowledge about illegal drugs and further reinforced by urban myths or hoax emails citing untrue and far-fetched stories of an unfortunate person sitting on an infected needle purposefully placed point upwards on a cinema seat, or being punctured by an infected needle left in the returned change slot of a pay phone. The fear of what many people know very little about can be partly dispelled with a basic knowledge – in this case about drugs, drug users and their habits, and what to do in the case of finding a needle or being injured by one.

What should you do if you find a dirty needle?

What should you do if you find a dirty needle?  In general, advice is NOT TO TOUCH a discarded needle or syringe and if you are a child, report your find to an adult such as your teacher, a police officer or your parents as soon as possible.  If sharps are found on council owned property, they have a duty to have them removed and will often have a sharps removal kit which includes a proper sharps disposal bin and staff will be trained to handle this type of waste removal safely.

If there is an immediate danger such as children playing and the syringe must be removed at once, do not hide it, kick it down a drain, flush it down a toilet, throw it in a dustbin or into a fireplace.  Never touch the sharp with your bare hands.  If possible, put on some heavy duty gloves and pick up the item using tongs at arms length (never scissors), or sweep up with a dustpan and brush, sweeping away from the body.

Syringes should be picked up by the middle of the barrel and tipped needle end first into a plastic or metal container, preferably with a lid.  If necessary, use a hard plastic bottle or a drinks can.  Wash hands thoroughly afterwards.

Needlestick Injuries

Whilst we aren’t able to give medical advice, the common information on the internet states: If a puncture wound has occurred, try not to panic.  Encourage bleeding by squeezing gently for a couple of minutes, do not suck the wound, wash thoroughly with soap and water for five minutes and attend the accident and emergency ward at your nearest hospital as soon as possible so that further advice and immunisation can be offered.

Needle Exchange

Needle and Syringe Exchange programmes are a positive step towards reducing discarded used needles and helping injecting drug users to handle their addiction responsibly and without causing danger to other members of the public.  Needle Exchanges aim to provide new and unused needles to injecting drug users to prevent them from sharing dirty ones and also to offer proper disposal bins for used needles.  This service is provided in a number of easily accessible places including high street chemists such as Boots and even selected pharmacies within large supermarkets like Sainsburys.

If you have any questions about addiction, visit our Tackling Drug Addiction for Friends and Families page or our home drug test FAQ page.  Alternatively, visit our workplace drug testing page for more information for employers.  We offer drug awareness training and drugs and alcohol policy development services.

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Jun 30

LSD – Drug Information, Facts and Awareness

What is LSD?

LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) is known by street names such as as acid, blotter, lucy, smilies, paper mushrooms, stars, tabs, M, window panes, sunshine or trips.  It is a semi-synthetic psychedelic drug which originates from ergot, a type of grain fungus that typically grows on rye and is the most widely known of the hallucinogenic drugs.  It is an extremely potent and an illegal Class A drug in the UK, carrying a penalty of up to seven years imprisonment and an unlimited fine or both for possession, and up to life imprisonment and an unlimited fine or both for supply or dealing, even if this is without charge and between friends.

How is LSD Taken? and what does LSD look like?

LSD is usually taken orally.  This drug may come in the form of a liquid solution which is odourless, colourless and slightly bitter to the taste, and is sold in small vials. It was formerly distributed largely in pill form (frequently called microdots) and small squares of gelatine known as window panes, but the most common form of LSD is now blotting paper which comprises a sheet of blotting paper impregnated with the liquid drug solution, dried, and perforated like a sheet of stamps into small squares measuring a quarter of an inch square called ‘tabs’ or ‘hits’ which are currently sold individually at a street cost in the UK of approximately £1 to £5.  The ‘tabs’ of paper are then swallowed or placed on the tongue to absorb the drug.

These sheets of squares often bear a psychedelic print or ‘blotter art’ with various illustrations on them such as strawberries, cartoons, aliens, geometric patterns, angels, Alice in Wonderland, depictions of the Swiss chemist Dr Albert Hofmann (who first created LSD in 1938) – and even Elvis Presley.  The design is sometimes used to denote the manufacturer, batch or strength of the drug.  It is estimated that since the mid 1970’s over 350 different prints have been produced.

LSD and the Government

LSD is widely known as a powerful hallucinogenic drug and was used internationally in an experimental capacity in the 1950’s and 1960’s by Governments to explore the possibilities of mind control, interrogation and social engineering.  Military studies were even carried out to evaluate LSD as a weapon.

The Effects of LSD

Effects of taking the drug are usually experienced between 30 minutes to an hour after taking LSD and can last for up to 12 hours.  Outward physical symptoms can be minimal, but may include dilation of the pupils, an increase in body temperature and blood pressure, sweating, sleeplessness, tremors and a dry mouth.

More dramatically, the psycho-emotional effects include visual hallucinations, delusions, an altered sense of time and space, a ‘crossover’ of the senses including sound and vision (called synesthesia) so that a user may experience hearing colours or seeing sounds, seeing straight lines as curved, static objects as moving, or ordinary objects such as faces or flowers ‘morphing’ or ‘melting’ into something entirely different and not always necessarily pleasant.  Heightened religious and spiritual experiences may be encountered and a sense that a greater ‘truth’ about life or oneself has been discovered.

A bad ‘trip’ can result in total panic or severe depression, fear of death, fear of insanity and a feeling of being trapped in a very bad dream with no control.  Rather than flowers or pretty colours, one may see demons, monsters or believe that friends can not be trusted or are thinking badly of them.  Whether a trip is bad or good is largely dependant on the expectations, the mood and environment of the user when they take the drug.  Generally speaking, LSD will amplify the current mood from contented to euphoric but potentially also from mild depression to terror.

Drug Information: The Dangers of LSD

More disturbingly, research suggests that underlying mental disorders hitherto not exposed may be triggered in an otherwise mentally healthy person causing lasting psychological ill effects.  More frequently, flashbacks of a trip are reported by users which can occur days, weeks or even years after the drug experience.  Many drug users report that just one tab can produce a single experience that changes their mind-set forever (whether good or bad), consolidating the general opinion that LSD is indeed a mind-altering drug even in the long term.

So – do people die from taking LSD?  The answer, as with most if not all illegal drugs is yes.  However, this is not usually a result of an overdose.  As a result of its large index of toxicity, a huge concentration of LSD is required before death results by overdose.  The US Drug Enforcement Administration reports that tabs seized contain on average of 20mcg – 80mcg LSD each which is a relatively low potency bearing in mind that a lethal dose of LSD has been estimated to be 14,000 mcg.  In the case of a massive overdose, coma, bleeding disorders and respiratory arrest may occur.  It should also be noted that pregnant women should never ever take LSD as it causes uterine contractions which could result in premature delivery and loss of their baby.

The most common danger lies in what is known as behavioural toxicity – uncharacteristic or abnormal behaviours brought about by drug use.  These may be perceived as negative, such as suicidal tendencies, or positive, such as feeling superhuman – but both can be equally as dangerous and lead users to behave in a dangerous, irrational and sometimes fatal manner.

Is LSD Addictive?

LSD is not considered to be physically addictive because although tolerance levels can be built up whereby more of the drug is required to facilitate a trip, the compulsive drug-seeking behaviours of drugs such as cocaine, heroin or alcohol are not brought about by use.

Drug Testing – Testing for LSD

Whilst many other illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis / marijuana can be detected at home using a home drug test, LSD is not detectable in this way as the concentrations of the drug are too low to be detected by a visually read diagnostic test kit and a laboratory test is required to screen for LSD abuse.

For more information on home drug testing kits, please visit our home drug test FAQ page.  Alternatively, for information on drug testing in the workplace, visit our workplace drug testing page.

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Jun 17

Drug Education – Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA)

Drug education (or the lack of it) is failing our young people. Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA), otherwise known as solvent abuse, glue-sniffing or huffing, is the second most commonly abused drug after cannabis in young people. More children and young people die each year from VSA than from all the other illegal drugs put together. According to the VSA Prevention Organisation, Solve It, the youngest person to die from VSA was just seven years old, and the oldest was 80 years old. Moreover, research shows that the vast majority of drug users admit that solvent abuse was their stepping stone to illegal drugs. Clearly, more drug education is necessary to reduce this problem.

So how can drug education help?

Drug education is key to preventing children from becoming engaged in ‘experimenting’ with drugs. This occurs initially out of curiosity because without being provided with the bare facts there is little to stop them toying with such dangers. Drug education and information regarding solvent abuse to young people must be delivered in a sensitive and responsible manner. Providing too little drug information can be just as fatal as providing too much: Listing in detail what exact substances to misuse and how to do so is like providing them with a drug user’s manual, whilst not providing any warning at all could result in young people failing to recognise the dangers.

A report by St Georges University in July 2007 detailed the latest statistics regarding deaths associated with abuse of volatile substances between 1971 – 2005. It summarises key findings of 45 deaths associated with VSA in 2005 bringing the recorded total of deaths since 1971 to a staggering 2,198 in the UK alone. In under 18’s, the number of deaths were equal between male and female, but in over 18’s, there were four more times as many male deaths as that of females.

What solvents can be abused?

One of the problems is that these substances of abuse are easily accessible because they are legally available and inexpensive. Many household, office and automotive products contain solvents and propellants used as inhalants. It is estimated that the average household contains between 30 – 50 products that can be abused. These include lighter fluid, paint and paint thinners, computer keyboard spray cleaner, typewriter correction fluid, permanent marker pens, nail varnish remover and aerosols.

How are volatile substances abused?

No specialist equipment such as needles or pipes are required to administer the drugs. The vapours are usually inhaled from products either directly from open containers of solvent or directly from spray canisters and in the case of gases, by using a plastic bag placed over the nose and mouth, or inhaled through a rag.

Testing for volatile solvent abuse

There are currently no home drug testing kits to test for volatile substance abuse but signs and symptoms of VSA may be a strong smell of solvents on clothes, skin and breath and, after prolonged use, the redness known as ‘glue-sniffers rash’ around the mouth and nose. As with other forms of drug abuse, other symptoms may include an increase in anti-social behaviour and crime, periods of depression and other emotional imbalances, absenteeism from school or work and a withdrawal from friends and family.

Drug Education: Is solvent abuse addictive?

Whilst glue-sniffing is not generally regarded as physically addictive compared to illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin, it can be psychologically addictive and certainly carries severe physical dangers: ‘Sudden sniffing death’ is unique to VSA. This is a catastrophic and very sudden heart failure resulting in immediate death and frequently occurs in people who have never sniffed a volatile substance before.

Drug Education: The symptoms of volatile solvent abuse

In the short term, inhalers may experience slurred speech, headaches, vomiting, wheezing, loss of motor co-ordination and hallucinations. Dangers always present with solvent abuse include aspiration of vomit and hypoxia which is where the body is deprived of sufficient oxygen: This is particularly prevalent in the inhalation of butane or gasoline vapours. Of the 45 people who died in 2005 in the UK from VSA, 80 percent of the deaths were associated with butane. In the longer term, use can cause damage to kidneys, liver and the brain, as well as hearing loss and central nervous system problems.

Many adults will remember as children idly having a sniff of a pot of glue or liquid paper at school just because it ‘smelled funny’. This ‘innocent’ moment at school can be a defining moment of a young person’s life – to sniff or not to sniff – and their decision will be largely influenced by their drug education. The good news is that since 1992, raised awareness has resulted in a significant fall in deaths from volatile substance abuse but, while the fact remains that one person in the UK still dies from VSA every week, increasing awareness of drug abuse through drug education is essential, whether young people receive this in the classroom or at home from their parents.

Visit our home drug tests FAQ page for more information – or our drug information page for details on other drugs. Alternatively, visit our tackling drug addiction for friends and families page for support, advice and information. Alcohol information is also available, given that it is arguably the greatest of all gateway drugs.

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Jun 10

Record Opium Harvest in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has just had the largest opium harvest in it’s history – which will have a significant ongoing impact on the volume of Heroin that will be hitting the streets across the globe.

Officials from the USA have increased their efforts to convince the government of Afghanistan to begin spraying herbicide on opium poppies – an action that many believe will help reduce the opium production but could affect the stability of the region by dividing the government there.

According to United Nations estimates, Afghanistan now produces an amazing 93 percent of the entire world’s opiates. Since the American-led invasion in 2001, its drug revenues have grown exponentially because more traffickers are also processing opium into heroin there.

In August 2007, a United Nations report recorded a 17 percent increase in poppy cultivation from 2006 to 2007 and a 34 percent growth in opium production. The issue is even more recognisable in the southern province of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold. Almost 4,400 metric tons of opium were produced in Helmand this year, which based on current UN statistics is almost half of Afghanistan’s overall output.

The government of Afghanistan’s opium eradication efforts have failed to keep up with this growth. Their efforts were responsible for cutting down about 47,000 acres of poppy fields this year, which although 24 percent more than last year is still less than 9 percent of the country’s overall poppy crop.

Street prices of Heroin have fallen over the last few years, making this harmful drug even easier to obtain by young people – in fact, the average starting age of Heroin use in many UK cities is just 15. Consequently, Afghanistan’s failure to adequately deal with this issue will have a global cost which will unfortunately be paid by young people who are drawn into experimentation.

This surge in Heroin production will also affect the workplace, where substance misuse already has a clear impact on accident rates, ill health, absenteeism and reduced productivity. Visit our workplace drug testing page for more information or read our home drug tests FAQ section.

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Jun 10

Cocaine and the Destruction of the Rainforests

The negative impact of illegal drugs including social problems, health problems and financial problems are well-publicised and often felt more keenly because they are close to home. But fewer people, especially those whose lifestyles embrace using illegal drugs, are inclined to view the bigger picture, part of which is the devastating effect of coca, opium and marijuana production on one of the world’s most precious resources the Amazon rainforest.

The Amazon Rainforest covers over a billion acres, covering areas in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and the Eastern Andean region of Ecuador and Peru.

This rich and precious natural resource is known as the “Lungs of our Planet”, with more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen being produced in the Amazon Rainforest. Over half of the world’s estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects live in the tropical rainforests and more than 25 percent of the active ingredients found in modern cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rainforest. Twenty percent of the globe’s fresh water is found in the Amazon Basin.

That is the good news. The bad news is that man is systematically destroying it, through, amongst other things, production of illicit drugs which is causing mass de-forestation, pollution of waterways, erosion and global climate change.

It is estimated that plantations in the Peruvian Amazon have increased sevenfold during the last 15 years, with coca plants being the largest crop under cultivation to meet the increasing demand for cocaine in Europe and the USA.

Over the past twenty years, approximately 5.9 million acres of rain forest have been lost to drug production fields in the Andean regions of Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. To make just one gram of cocaine requires almost 300 grams of dried coca leaves.

To produce a 2.5 acre crop of coca plants, approximately 10 acres of forest must be cleared or burned (how’s that for a carbon footprint), causing air pollution, loss of habitat to thousands of plant and animal species, and soil erosion. The award-winning scientist and expert in biodiversity, Dr Edward O. Wilson, estimates that 50,000 animal and plant species per year are being lost to deforestation.

Deforestation aside, the chemical byproducts of cocaine production have resulted in a staggering estimated 14,800 tons of chemical waste being disposed of in the Amazon River Basin every year. According to one study of cocaine production in Bolivia undertaken by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, just one kilo of cocaine base required three litres of concentrated sulfuric acid, ten kilos of lime, up to 80 litres of kerosene, 200 grams of potassium permanganate and one litre of concentrated ammonia.

Annually, according to Peruvian forest engineer Marc J. Dourojeanni, coca growers dump 15 million gallons of kerosene, 8 million gallons of sulphuric acid, 1.6 million gallons of acetone, 1.6 million gallons of the solvent toluene, 16,000 tons of lime and 3,200 tons of carbide into the valley’s watershed.

In addition to this hazardous chemical waste, herbicide spraying to destroy coca fields in the war against drugs is having the undesired effect of driving growers and traffickers out of their usual territory and further into the jungle into National Park areas to escape authorities and set up more plantations without detection. Even worse, indigenous leaders claim that local farmers and their families are dying or becoming sick as a result of polluted water sources.

It is projected that the rainforest could be all but destroyed within forty years and in spite of the appalling human costs from production through to consumer, the demand for cocaine in Europe and the US continues to increase. In conclusion, whilst those who are using drugs often perceive an immediate present benefit from drug-taking, ultimately the cost will be borne in future by our children’s children – a very high price to pay for living in the moment.

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