Curbs on legal highs cut need for hospital care

July 25, 2018, University of Edinburgh
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Fewer people sought hospital treatment for the toxic effects of so-called legal highs following temporary restrictions, a study based at an Edinburgh hospital suggests.

The marked drop led to healthcare savings and suggests that the government restrictions—combined with local council measures—were successful in preventing drug harm, researchers say.

The research is the first to evaluate the impact on hospitals of public health crackdowns on this type of drug, which has since been outlawed.

To swiftly tackle a rise in the use of these novel (NPS), the UK Government brought in two temporary class drug-orders—or TCDOs—in 2015. These banned import and supply of common types for 12 months.

NPS—synthetic chemical compounds that affect the brain and alter behaviour—were also targeted by standards curbs brought in by the City of Edinburgh Council in partnership with the police.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and NHS Lothian looked at anonymous health records documenting patients who came to suffering harmful drug effects. The data spanned almost three years, covering time before and after TCDOs and trading standards restrictions were brought into force.

Complications from the of NPS can include psychosis, seizures and death.

In the six months following the introduction of TCDOs, researchers identified a large and rapid fall in people presenting to hospital for harms from NPS.

Admissions relating to one particularly common drug type—ethylphenidate—almost completely disappeared in this time, researchers say.

There was an 80 per cent reduction in hospital admissions for all forms of NPS—including the known as spice—following trading standards actions later in 2015 that removed NPS from local shops in Edinburgh.

The restrictions were also associated with a reduction in the number of post-mortem examinations where NPS drugs were detected.

Over the same period there was a small increase in people seeking hospital treatment after taking classic stimulants such as MDMA and amphetamines. There was no such increase in admissions linked to use of opioids such as heroin, the study shows.

In 2016, NPS were banned by law under Psychoactive Substances Act (2016). The effect of this law on hospitalisations was hard to define, researchers say, as TCDOs and trading standards enforcement had already had such a marked effect.

Experts caution that their findings do not prove that the restrictions cause the change but maintain that this is the strongest evidence to date that such restraints can prevent harm.

Lead researcher, Michael Eddleston, Professor of Clinical Toxicology at the BHF Centre for Cardiovascular Science at the University of Edinburgh and consultant NHS toxicologist, said: "Our findings suggest that TCDOs, combined with local trading standards, were very successful in reducing NPS harm in Edinburgh.

"Widespread adoption of trading standards enforcement, together with focused legislation, seemed to turn the tide against these highly-damaging drugs. These restrictions may have offered health benefits and saved the NHS substantial funds each year."

Explore further: US painkiller restriction linked to increase in drug trading

More information: Janice Pettie et al, New drug controls and reduced hospital presentations due to novel psychoactive substances in Edinburgh, British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (2018). DOI: 10.1111/bcp.13672

Related Stories

US painkiller restriction linked to increase in drug trading

June 14, 2018
A new study led by Swinburne shows trading of prescription opioids through the darknet has increased in the wake of tighter regulation by the US government for this category of legal pharmaceutical products prescribed by ...

Illicit opioid trade up with restrictions on hydrocodone

June 14, 2018
(HealthDay)—The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's 2014 ruling to reschedule hydrocodone combination products coincided with an increase in illicit trading of opioids through online illicit markets (cryptomarkets), ...

Smoking legislation prevents over 11,000 child hospital admissions in England each year

May 28, 2015
The introduction of smoke-free legislation in England was associated with over 11,000 fewer admissions to hospital a year from respiratory infections in children, according to a new study.

Cancer fighting effects of aspirin revealed in bowel tumor study

June 4, 2018
Researchers have shed light on how taking aspirin can help to stave off bowel cancer.

Standards to iron out 'weekend effect' in English hospitals don't make any difference

November 8, 2017
The introduction of four priority standards for emergency care in hospitals in England has not made any difference to curbing excess deaths on Saturdays and Sundays, known as the 'weekend effect,' reveals the first study ...

Males and under 30 at greatest risk of hospital admission for drug related poisonings

December 16, 2015
Poisonings from recreational drug and alcohol use account for 9 percent of all poisoning-related hospital admissions, says a new University of Sydney study revealing that males and people under 30 are at greatest risk.

Recommended for you

Shortcut strategy for screening compounds with clinical potentials for drug development

December 4, 2018
Developing a new drug often takes years and costs hundreds of millions of dollars. A shortcut has now been reported in a study led by City University of Hong Kong (CityU), which can potentially reduce the time and costs of ...

Drug wholesalers drove fentanyl's deadly rise, report concludes

December 4, 2018
Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid implicated in nearly 29,000 overdose deaths in the United States last year, most likely spread because of heroin and prescription pill shortages, and also because it was cheaper for drug ...

Global review reports on administration of children's antibiotics

December 4, 2018
Researchers analyzing the sales of oral antibiotics for children in 70 high- and middle-income countries found that consumption varies widely from country to country with little correlation between countries' wealth and the ...

Opioid prescriptions from dentists linked to youth addiction risk

December 3, 2018
Teens and young adults who receive their initial opioid prescriptions from their dentists or oral surgeons are at increased risk for opioid addiction in the following year, a study from the Stanford University School of Medicine ...

Rise in meth and opioid use during pregnancy

November 29, 2018
Amphetamine and opioid use in pregnancy increased substantially over the last decade in the United States, a new Michigan Medicine-led study finds. And a disproportionate rise occurred in rural counties.

Mouse model aids study of immunomodulation

November 19, 2018
Because mice do not respond to immunomodulatory drugs (IMiDs), preclinical therapeutic and safety studies of the effects of IMiDs have not been possible in existing types of mice. This has led to an inability to accurately ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.