Press release

First 'legal high' banned under new power

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A new temporary control power will be used for the first time to ban so-called legal high 'mexxy', the government announced today.

In a move to crack down on dangerous new substances reaching UK streets, home office minister Lord Henley will introduce the first temporary class drug order (TCDO) on the new psychoactive substance methoxetamine (also known as mexxy and MXE).

The drug, which is sold and advertised as a safe alternative to the class C drug ketamine, will be made illegal for up to 12 months while independent drug experts on the advisory council on the misuse of drugs (ACMD) decide whether it should be permanently controlled.

The use of the first TCDO, which was introduced through the police reform and social responsibility act 2011 in November 2011, came after advice from the ACMD, which recommended that an order should be made because the substance has similar effects to the illegal drug ketamine, including causing hallucinations and psychiatric issues similar to schizophrenia.

Minister for crime prevention and antisocial behaviour reduction Lord Henley said:

‘Making this drug illegal sends a clear message to users and those making and supplying it, that we are stepping up our fight against substances which are dangerous and ruin the lives of victims and their families.

‘But making drugs illegal is only part of the solution. It is important for users of these harmful substances to understand that just because they are described as legal highs, it does not mean they are safe or should be seen as a ‘safer’ alternative to illegal substances.

‘The use of this new power clearly demonstrates how the UK is leading the way in cracking down on new psychoactive substances by quickly banning a substance while its harms are investigated.

‘Those caught making, supplying or importing the drug face up to 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine under the misuse of drugs act 1971. Police and border officials will also be allowed to search or detain anyone they suspect of having the drug and seize, keep or dispose of a substance they think is a temporary class drug.

The government referred methoxetamine to the ACMD with a view to invoking an order on Monday 5 March after becoming increasingly concerned about its potential harms and availability in the UK.

Since then, the ACMD has presented further evidence to suggest that the use of methoxetamine can lead to ‘significant additional toxicity’, including agitation, a faster heart rate and higher blood pressure, as well as unsteadiness on the feet which the council says is rarely seen with ketamine or other recreational drugs.

The increasing use of ‘mexxy’ was identified through two new systems put in place to provide an early warning of potentially harmful drugs appearing in the UK. The forensic early warning system (FEWS) which collects and analyses new substances and the government’s drugs early warning system (DEWS), a network of health and law enforcement  bodies which share information on new substances and provide vital evidence for the development of policy.

The order is now being formally implemented before the drug becomes illegal in the forthcoming days. This period gives the government time to inform law enforcement agencies of the changes, and also gives suppliers and manufacturers the chance to dispose of their substances before it becomes illegal.

Chair of the ACMD professor Les Iversen said:

‘In making its recommendation to government on methoxetamine, the ACMD considered evidence and reports from a wide range of sources, including external experts. The evidence shows that the use of methoxetamine can cause harm to users.

‘Many of the health effects of methoxetamine are similar to those of ketamine, which is already controlled under the misuse of drugs act. Users have also reported experiencing other serious effects including agitation, cardiovascular conditions and hypertension.

‘The ACMD considers methoxetamine to be a harmful substance and advises that it should be subject to a temporary class drug order for 12 months.’

Notes to editors 

1. While simple possession of methoxetamine will not be an offence under the misuse of drugs act 1971, those caught making, supplying or importing it face up to 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine. Police and border officials will also be allowed to search or detain anyone they suspect of having the drug and seize, keep or dispose of a substance they think is a temporary class drug.

2. The ACMD’s advice on methoxetamine and more about the council can be found at: www.homeoffice.gov.uk/agencies-public-bodies/acmd/

3. The power to make a temporary class drug order, introduced through the police reform and social responsibility act 2011 in November 2011, gives the home secretary the power to control any substance (known then as a temporary class drug) considered harmful or potentially harmful informed by the ACMD’s initial advice for up to 12 months while the council prepares more detailed advice to government.

4. More information about TCDOs can be found at: www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/alcohol-drugs/drugs/temporary-class-drug-factsheet

5. This substance was seen in the home office’s forensic early warning system (FEWS) which has improved the government’s ability to identify new drugs available in the UK. It was launched because of the increasing number of ‘legal highs’ entering the UK. It includes developing a co-ordinated UK-wide approach to laboratory testing and analysis of drug seizures, as well as wider test purchasing.

6. The home office has also been gathering further information about methoxetmine from a range of stakeholders through its drugs early warning system (DEWS), which is a network of specialist experts and organisations with an interest in drug issues.

7. The government launched its drug strategy in December 2010, which can be found here: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/drugs/drug-strategy-2010/

8. For further information please contact the home office press office on 020 7035 3535.