Rise in Mephedrone Injecting in the UK: Report

Intravenous mephedrone and amphetamine use is reportedly increasing in the UK, with "chemsex" serving as one possible explanation for this phenomenon.

From 2004-2014, the number of people reporting that amphetamines and amphetamine-type drugs were their main drugs of choice for intravenous use increased three-fold, reaching 12 percent of the total surveyed population, according to a Public Health England (PHE) report

Contained within these figures is a concerning rise in the injecting use of mephedrone; in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 8.9 percent of those surveyed in 2014 reported that they had injected mephedrone at some point over the past 12 months compared with 8 percent of those surveyed in 2013.

While the uptick alone isn’t necessarily cause for alarm, PHE notes higher risk behaviour among people injecting mephedrone, with this group found to be almost twice as likely to share mixing containers and filters, and more likely to share needles and syringes. All of these practices significantly increase the risk of contracted a blood-borne virus or injection site infection.

One potential explainer for the rise in mephedrone injecting, along with amphetamines and amphetamine-type stimulants, is the reported growth in "chemsex" – a term typically used to describe sex between men under the influence of illicit drugs.

Estimates on the number of people engaging in chemsex are few and far between, though recent reports suggest the number of men accessing services because of this is increasing. Additionally, sexual health and substance misuse experts writing in the British Medical Journal recently called for chemsex to be made a public health priority in the UK.

Crystal meth, GHB/GBL, and mephedrone are among the most common drugs used during chemsex, with the latter found to be almost universally used by participants in The Chemsex Study -- released in 2014 -- which looks into the scene in south London. People typically favour mephedrone, according to the report, because of its comparative low price and relatively reliable quality.

On top of the commonality of mephedrone use, London's LGBT drugs services, Antidote, found in 2013 that 80 percent of men who reported using crystal meth or mephedrone in a sexual context were doing so intravenously, a rise from 20 percent just two years prior.

In response to the more common injection of amphetamines and amphetamine-type drugs, the PHE report recommends a better adequacy of services in charge of reducing the risk of infections to particular groups of people injecting drugs, such as men who have sex with men.

Indeed, according to a recent study, many barriers exist to those who engage in chemsex accessing services, such as, for example, the lack of knowledge of existing drug services which are typically designed to address the needs of opiate users and “may not be sufficiently resourced to address the specific and acute needs of gay men engaging in chemsex.”