Category Archives: National News

Alcohol limits cut to reduce health risks

Tough new guidelines issued on alcohol have cut recommended drinking limits and say there is no such thing as a safe level of drinking.

The UK’s chief medical officers say new research shows any amount of alcohol can increase the risk of cancer.

The new advice says men and women who drink regularly should consume no more than 14 units a week – equivalent to six pints of beer or seven glasses of wine.

Pregnant women should not drink at all.

It also says if people drink, it should be moderately over three or more days and that some days should be alcohol-free.

Nor should people “save up” their units and drink them all in one or two goes. Heavy drinking sessions increase the risk of accidents and injury, it says.

Low-level drinking

The guidance marks the first full review of alcohol guidelines since 1995, although updated advice on drinking in pregnancy and for young people was published in 2007 and 2009 respectively.

In relation to pregnant women, the new guidelines bring the rest of the UK in line with Scotland and recommend that pregnant women should not drink at all.

It marks a subtle shift from previous guidance for people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland which, while suggesting they should not drink, said that if they did, it should be no more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week, and they should not get drunk.

How the advice has changed

Previous government guidance set out daily drinking limits of three to four units for men and two to three for women. The new guidance moves to weekly limits to get away from the idea that drinking every day is fine.

The new 14 units limit therefore represents a cut in drinking levels for both men and women, although since 1995 doctors’ groups have been advising that over the course of a week men should limit themselves to 21 units and women 14 units – the lower end of the daily range the government has been advising. So in effect the government guidance has caught up with the medical advice – and gone a bit further.

On drinking in pregnancy, the new advice is unambiguous. Women should not drink. Previously women in Wales, Northern Ireland and England had been told not to drink but if they did to limit it.

The latest guidance makes it clear people should be teetotal on some days and that heavy drinking sessions should be avoided. The 1995 guidelines did not set this out categorically.

‘Laughable’ alcohol responsibility deal has worsened nation’s health, says charity

The government’s controversial public health responsibility deal for alcohol has pursued initiatives ‘known to have limited efficacy’ while obstructing more meaningful action, according to a damning report from the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS). If the industry has used the deal to resist more effective measures, the deal may even have ‘worsened the health of the nation’.

The deal – a partnership between the government, drinks industry and voluntary sector – was first announced five years ago as part of the public health white paper (DDN, 6 December 2010, page 4). It was subsequently dismissed by Alcohol Concern as ‘the worst possible deal for everyone who wants to see alcohol harm reduced’ (DDN, April 2011, page 4), with the charity one of a number of bodies – including the Royal College of Physicians and British Medical Association – that refused to sign up.

The boycott meant that the deal was never a ‘genuine partnership’, says the document, with many of the organisations’ objections ‘vindicated in the four years since’. Implementation of the deal’s non-binding pledges – a new set of which were announced last summer (DDN, August 2014, page 4) – has frequently ‘failed to live up to the letter and/or spirit’, says the report, with ‘ambiguous’ goals and poor reporting practices also rendering any evidence on the deal’s effectiveness ‘limited and unreliable’.

The document also casts doubt on the deal’s future, as the government has not explicitly committed to its renewal since the election, and the partnership’s ‘alcohol network’ has not met in more than a year. IAS is calling for the deal to be abandoned and for the government to instead re-visit some of the ‘real evidence-based policies’ – including minimum unit pricing – promised in the 2012 alcohol strategy (DDN, April 2012, page 4).

‘This report reveals the full extent of the failures of the responsibility deal to address alcohol harm,’ said IAS director Katherine Brown. ‘Perhaps more worryingly, it indicates the deal may have delayed evidence-based actions that would save lives and cut crime, such as minimum pricing. To call this a “public health responsibility deal” for alcohol is laughable, as almost every independent public health body has boycotted it.

‘With no support from the health community, and no evidence of effectiveness, it would be absurd for this government to continue with such a farcical initiative,’ she continued. ‘With alcohol costing our society £21bn each year, we can’t afford to keep prioritising the needs of big business over public health.’

Online market ‘is turning drug dealers from goons to geeks’

Customer service skills and a way with words are replacing muscles and a tough reputation, says European drugs agency

Drug dealers are turning from goons to geeks in a trade that is increasingly being conducted online, says a report by the European drugs agency.

Research into internet drug markets by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) suggested the self-regulation of online markets such as Silk Road provide a safer environment for users and dealers of illicit substances.

Feedback mechanisms similar to eBay mean customers are able to hold dealers to account for the service they provide, the report said, while remote access to the market almost eliminates the risk of violence that has long been an integral part of the black economy.

As a result, online drug dealers are more likely to need good customer service skills and a persuasive way with words than muscles and a tough reputation.
Dark net markets: the eBay of drug dealing
Read more

The report, published on Thursday, draws together the most recent evidence from experts on the darknet markets phenomenon that first came to public attention with the rise of Silk Road, which opened in 2011 and operated until it was seized by the FBI in 2013.

Researchers argued that Silk Road and its successors, known as cryptomarkets or darknet markets, became successful after bringing together four technologies: the bitcoin virtual currency and encrypted internet protocols such as Tor, which allowed anonymity, as well as Escrow and customer feedback systems, which gave buyers and sellers confidence in their transactions.

Products are most often sent through the post, eliminating personal encounters between dealers and their customers.

These market innovations have led to a shift in the kinds of people involved in selling drugs. “Because of the virtual location of online drug markets, in addition to the presence of conflict-reducing features such as Escrow and bitcoin, violence and theft are likely to be reduced. It is probable that these changes will have a deep impact on the skills needed to succeed in criminal markets,” the report says.

“In the drug cryptomarket era, having good customer service and writing skills, and a good reputation, via feedback, as a vendor or buyer may be more important than muscles and face-to-face connections.”

Other findings in the 139-page report include:

• Drugs available through darknet markets tend to be of a higher purity than those available on the streets.

• Darknet markets often act as virtual brokers linking upper-, mid- and retail-level sellers, as well as consumers.

• Users of darknet markets tend to be more sophisticated, recreational drug users.

• A quarter of sales through darknet markets were for wholesale quantities costing $1,000 (£695) or more, suggesting retail dealers use them for sourcing stock.

• The next generation of darknet markets are likely to be decentralised, peer-to-peer networks, making them even more difficult for police to seize.

Judith Aldridge, a criminologist at Manchester University and one of the report’s 30 co-authors, said the use of darknet markets for drug buying seemed to be on the rise, and had the potential for changing the structure of the global drug market.

However, she said, they have their limitations. Given their reliance on postal systems for delivery, darknet markets are unlikely to be useful for large-scale drug supply and importation.

She added: “Despite the growth and popularity of these markets, they tend to be short-lived, and their success substantially hampered by the growth of mistrust amongst market participants due to scams and, to a more limited extent, law enforcement activities.”
German teenager sold one tonne of drugs from his mother’s flat
Read more

The analyst Steve Rolles from the Transform drug policy foundation, a pro-reform group, said the advent of the darknet trade highlighted the adaptability of drugs markets. He said: “If half a century of drug enforcement shows anything it’s that whilst demand remains, the market will always find a way to meet that demand while a profit opportunity exists.

“The best enforcement can achieve is to displace markets, it can’t eradicate them. The darknet is just the latest chapter in a 50-year game of cat and mouse – that the drug warriors can never win.”

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, said: “The illicit market is evolving, and so should our efforts to eliminate it. We should stop the abuse of the internet by those wanting to turn it into a drug market.

“Technology is offering fresh opportunities for law enforcement to tackle online drug markets and reduce threats to public health. Let us seize these opportunities to attack the problem head-on and reduce drug supply online.”

Public health directors voice cuts concerns

More than 70 per cent of directors of public health say that drug and alcohol services in their area are likely to be reduced in 2016-17, according to a survey by their membership body, the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH).

ADPH members were asked about the likely impact of the government’s £200m cut in its public health grants to local authorities (DDN, September 2015, page 4). None of the respondents, however, said they expected that the cuts would mean drug or alcohol services being completely decommissioned.

Overall, 78 per cent of directors of public health said that the reduced funding would ‘have a detrimental impact on health’ in their area, with all services likely to suffer reductions next year. The cuts are a further blow in the context of ‘wider local authority cuts and NHS financial difficulties’, says ADPH, with 75 per cent of directors saying there would be an increase in health inequalities.

More than 90 per cent of the directors stated that they were ‘centrally involved’ in any decisions about cuts themselves, with the criteria a combination of ‘politics, statutory requirements, evidence, need and pragmatism’. Almost 60 per cent of respondents also said they expected to lose staff both this financial year and next.

‘Devolving public health to local government was a positive step, and councils have embraced these new responsibilities,’ said the Local Government Association’s (LGA) community wellbeing spokesperson, Cllr Izzi Seccombe. ‘However, as ADPH’s analysis shows, the significant cuts to public health grants will have a major impact on the many prevention and early intervention services carried out by councils. These include combating the nation’s obesity problem, helping people to stop smoking and tackling alcohol and drug abuse.

‘Given that much of councils’ public health budget goes to pay for NHS services like sexual health, public health nursing, drug and alcohol treatment and health checks, these are cuts to the NHS in all but name. And it will put further pressure on other NHS services.’

‘Going dry for a month boosted my health’

joanna munroJoanna Munro describes herself as the typical mother who enjoys a well-earned glass of her favourite tipple at the end of a trying day.

As someone who drank no more than a couple of glasses of wine a day, Joanna, 45, was by no means a heavy drinker. But one day, she realised that “wine o’clock” had become more of a habit than a pleasure.

She gave up alcohol for a month for Dry January to prove to herself she was still in control but she tells how she soon started noticing unexpected health benefits.

Pleasure or habit?

“Back in December, I was a typical example of the mother who reaches for her first glass of rosé while simultaneously burning dinner, tripping over the dog, emptying the washing machine and resolving conflicts between the kids. Then I realized that “wine o’clock” had become an automatic reflex that wasn’t so much a pleasure as a habit.

“I didn’t find an answer to my question on the internet, but I did find Alcohol Concern’s website and a challenge called Dry January. I liked the idea – an opportunity to prove to myself that I had more self-control than a four-year-old who’d been left alone in a Cadbury’s warehouse. If I was hooked, I’d be clawing my way up the curtains in despair within days.

“So I signed up. Over the month, my resolve was considerably strengthened by Dry January’s Facebook page and the determination and solidarity of those taking part. The challenge worked a charm because people can encourage each other and be accountable to each other.

“The aim was simple on paper: give up alcohol for one month. As I’m an eternal optimist, I added an hour of exercise every day for good measure. I quickly worked out a circuit through my local village. When attempting abstinence for the first time in 12 years, sunshine and great countryside proved ideal to lift this trainee teetotaler’s spirits.”

Health benefits

“The first week, I rode the virtuosity wave. I was a disdainful diva, even declining champagne on the beach to toast in the New Year. By the middle of the second week, however, the queen of self-control and restraint was glowering, Gollum-like, over her glass of Perrier and lime as hubby savoured his beer.

“After two weeks the cold turkey wore off, and the first benefits kicked in. I was in bed snoring shamelessly before 10 and was awake before the alarm at 6.15am. My skin was looking better. I had more energy, and was proud of myself for sticking at it.

“Although weight loss wasn’t a decisive factor for me, I lost 5lbs (2.3kg) in the first month and I have now lost nearly 10lbs and banished three inches (7.5cm) of muffin top from my waistline. Like many other people on Dry January’s page, my problem was the inexplicable desire to replace my evening dose of wine with snacks in front of the TV.

“Yet in the long run, less wine meant less nibbles. I realised how alcohol opened up my appetite and made me reach for those salty nibbles.

“Less nibbles meant less weight. Not exactly rocket science, but a winning equation nevertheless.”

Drug deaths in England and Wales reach record levels

More than 3,300 people died from drug poisoning in 2014 in England and Wales, the highest figure since modern records began in 1993, the Office for National Statistics says.

According to its latest report, two thirds involved illegal drugs.

Cocaine-related deaths rose to 247 – up from 169 in 2013, while deaths from heroin and/or morphine increased by 579 to 952 between 2012 and 2014.

The Department of Health said any drug-related death was a tragedy.

But while in England there was a 17% rise in the drug misuse mortality rate in 2014, up to 39.7 per million head of population, in Wales the rate fell by 16% to 39 deaths per million, the lowest since 2006.

The number of people dying from drugs misuse in Wales fell by 20% to 168 last year, down from 208 recorded deaths in 2013.

Legal drugs which were misused and associated with deaths during this period include Tramadol, linked to 240 cases, codeine, which was associated with 136, and Diazepam, linked to 258.

Of the 3,346 drug poisoning deaths registered in 2014, illegal drugs were involved with 2,248 cases.

Males were more than 2.5 times more likely to die from drug misuse than females, the report says.

People aged 40 to 49 had the highest mortality rate from drug misuse – 88.4 deaths per million population – followed by people aged 30 to 39 – 87.9 deaths per million.

Male deaths

As in previous years, the majority were males, with 2,246 deaths compared with 1,100 female deaths.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Although we are seeing fewer people year on year using heroin, in particular young people, any death related to drugs is a tragedy.

“Our drugs strategy is about helping people get off drugs and stay off them for good, and we will continue to help local authorities give tailored treatment to users.”

Rosanna O’Connor, director of Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco at Public Health England said the latest rise in deaths caused by heroin use was of “great concern”.

She added: “The increased global availability and purity of heroin is clearly having an impact in England.

“Fewer people are using heroin but the harms are increasingly concentrated among older, more vulnerable users and those not recently in touch with their local drug treatment services.

“Reassuringly, overall drug use has also declined and treatment services have helped many people to recover but these figures show the need for an enhanced effort.”

The BBC’s home affairs correspondent, Danny Shaw, says that while there is plenty of coverage of the use of nitrous oxide, known as laughing gas, the number of deaths from the use of that drug remains in single figures and is dwarfed by heroin and cocaine deaths.

The news comes after it was revealed last month that the number of drug-related deaths in Scotland has risen to its highest level since records began.

The National Records of Scotland report said 613 people died as a result of drugs in 2014.

Students and drugs

Almost half of 16 to 24 year olds in England and Wales have tried drugs at least once, most commonly cannabis. Experimenting with drugs can sometimes be presented as part of the “student experience”.

But drugs are illegal for a reason. As well as the risks to your mental and physical health, using them can make you more likely to have unprotected sex, which in turn can increase your risk of being infected with an STI and having an unplanned pregnancy.

A small but significant proportion of regular drug users can come to rely on cannabis or become addicted to drugs such as heroin or cocaine. Any such addiction can have a disastrous effect on studies and health.

The legal penalties for drug possession can be severe for some drugs. Possession of a class A drug, such as cocaine, can lead to up to seven years in prison. Also, your university will not look kindly on you if you’re arrested for drug possession. Many universities would ban you from campus, or drop you from your course.

It’s not just illegal drugs that you need to be wary of. There are legal substances for sale with potential health risks. Read more in our article about legal highs.

The best way to minimise your risk from drugs is not to use them. Failing that, find out as much information as you can about any drugs you’re using, including the risks, the potential for addiction and what happens when you mix one drug with another or with alcohol.

Is it REALLY worth doing ‘Dry January’? One expert weighs up the pros and cons of going booze free for a month

  • Alcohol Concern is urging people to give up alcohol for 30 days
  • Main ambition is to change UK drinking culture and reduce consumption
  • Expert Ian Hamilton says it may not induce long term changes in habits
  • For some heavy drinkers, abstaining can actually cause seizures and hallucinations as well as anxiety, sleep disruption and restlessness

Could you manage a month without alcohol?

Alcohol Concern has thrown down the gauntlet to drinkers: avoid drinking for the whole of January.

And after a Christmas heavy on the sauce, it seems like a tempting idea for many of us.

Advocates say abstention it is the route to clearer skin, better sleep and a revitalised liver. 

But one expert questions whether a booze-free month can really change a person’s long term drinking behaviour and lead to lasting change.

Writing for The Conversation, Ian Hamilton, a lecturer in mental health at the University of York, discusses the pros and cons of the campaign…

The campaign, Dry January, aims to attract funding through donations, raise awareness of alcohol-related problems and educate people about the health benefits of abstaining from alcohol.

Aside from saving money, Alcohol Concern claims that abstaining will help you lose weight and improve your sleep.

There is no shortage of participants – more than two million people signed up last year, but is there any evidence that Dry January works?

Gram for gram, alcohol contains almost the same amount of calories as pure fat, so abstaining for a month could reduce your weight, assuming you don’t compensate for the lost calories by eating more.

Fat accumulates in the liver as a result of drinking. As little as two weeks abstinence can return your liver to good health, reducing the risk of alcohol-related liver disease.

As for improving sleep, there is clear evidence that you will get a better night’s sleep if you abstain from alcohol.

Extent of drug abuse in schools revealed

The terrifying degree to which drug abuse has become a part of everyday life for hundreds of thousands of British children is revealed today.

Many start as young as 11. By the age of 16 nearly one in ten boys is regularly taking drugs – including heroin and cocaine – with the statistics for girls almost as high, according to a ground-breaking study.

The figures mean that across the country probably 400,000 under-16s are now regular users.

The nationwide survey, taken among 18,000 pupils at 67 schools, is the first to examine how often children use drugs rather than just whether they take them at all.

It paints a frightening picture of the grip the culture exerts on the young – and the explosion in use as they pass through their teenage years.

At the age of 11, out of every thousand boys 12 count themselves as regular users, meaning they take drugs weekly over a period of three months or more.

By the age of 14 the figure is 59 out of every thousand. But by the age of 16 some 88 boys out of every thousand meet the ‘regular user’ test.

While cannabis remains the drug most heavily used there is increasing evidence that even very young pupils are now trying and persisting with the hardest of drugs.

Among 11-year-old users, seven out of every thousand say they have used heroin and 13 in every thousand admit trying cocaine.

The statistics highlight the way drugs are now regarded by many teenagers as integral to their music and dance culture and an automatic part of growing up.

Even the one in ten 16-year-old boys and one in fourteen 16-year-old girls who told researchers they do not take them admitted they expected to use them over the next 12 months.

Where once cannabis was regarded as the preserve of a rebellious minority, it now stands alongside drugs such as Ecstasy as a indispensable entertainment aid.

A recent survey found that one in four young people in their teens and early 20s routinely drives while under the influence. Nearly one in five believes taking drugs makes them better drivers.

The falling price of drugs has now put them within reach of many children. But those who can’t afford them simply turn to crime.

One recent survey by the charity Drugscope calculated that teenage heroin addicts in provincial towns are now spending £10,000 a year on average on their habits – raised largely by shoplifting, stealing cars, burglary, theft and street robbery.

The latest survey was carried out by the Swansea-based Adolescent Assessment Service, which makes regular studies of the lifestyles, habits and interests of the young.

It was backed by a number of education authorities anxious to get new information to boost their anti-drug programmes.

Researcher Jeremy Gluck said yesterday that it showed that campaigns should target children in the years leading up to their early teens. ‘The critical period for initiation occurs for girls at age 13 and for boys at 14,’ he said.

‘The dramatic increase in usage at the ages of 13 and 14 is a central feature of sub-stance use and preventative work could usefully be focused on the years preceding these age groups.’

He admitted: ‘These findings are a cause for concern.’

The study found that fewer than half the children who admitted using drugs were regarded as having ‘high self-esteem’ against more than three- quarters of non-drug users.

But nearly one in six of the users were recorded as having ‘low self- esteem’ – children who are most vulnerable to failure at school, crime, ill-health and single parenthood.

The evidence suggested that children who first become accustomed to alcohol are also those most likely to graduate to drug-taking.

‘It does appear clear that drug usage is associated with damaging psychological effects,’ Mr Gluck added.

Anti-drug campaigners blamed the scale of habitual use on the weakness of anti-drug education and the popularity of ‘harm reduction’ ideas that say teenagers should be helped to use drugs wisely rather than told to ‘say no’.

Mary Brett of the National Drug Prevention Alliance said the survey was proof that the Government had failed to begin to get to grips with the menace.

She said: ‘It is vital that we start to tell children the truth about drugs, starting with the truth that cannabis is not harmless but a gateway drug that does lead on to other and worse drugs.

‘Children should not just be told to say no. They should be told why – how drugs affect not just your body but your social and economic future.’

Influential recent inquiries – notably a report by Dame Ruth Runciman for the Police Foundation think tank – have recommended relaxing the laws against cannabis possession to avoid criminalising young people.

Newcastle University sociologist Norman Dennis, an expert on drug use among teenagers, said: ‘The scale of use shown here is high and it is going in the wrong direction.

‘The question we have to look at is not just how big it is, but what it was like a few years ago. The answer is that the level of drug abuse was very small not long ago.’

Mr Dennis, who is to publish a major study of drug abuse later this year, added: ‘This level of drug abuse is inviting disaster for children.

‘We are not doing anything to reduce it, and the more children are given the message that using drugs is acceptable the more they will do so.

‘America managed to cut drug abuse in the 1980s with the “just say no” campaign but nothing like that has been tried here.’

by STEVE DOUGHTY, Daily Mail