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Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Temporary Class Drug) (No. 2) Order 2016

Volume 777: debated on Thursday 15 December 2016

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, I extend my thanks to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for its advice, which has informed the order. I also congratulate Dr Owen Bowden-Jones on his appointment as the new chair of the council, as announced in yesterday’s Written Ministerial Statement.

This order relates to methiopropamine, commonly known as MPA, as well as to its simple derivatives. This compound has been controlled under a previous temporary class drug order—a TCDO—which expired on 26 November 2016. If this order is made, MPA, as well as its simple derivatives, will be subject to temporary control under Section 2A of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 for a further 12 months. This will allow the ACMD to gather and consider more evidence in order to make a substantiated recommendation for permanent control under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

MPA is a stimulant psychoactive substance which is similar in its chemistry to methamphetamine and has similar effects to that substance, such as stimulation, alertness and an increase of energy and focus. Side-effects reported include abnormally fast heart rates, anxiety, panic attacks, perspiration, headaches, nausea, difficulty breathing, vomiting, difficulty urinating and sexual dysfunction.

The ACMD has reported that MPA initially emerged as a replacement drug for the methylphenidate-based compounds which had been temporarily controlled under a previous TCDO. Of particular concern was the potential high risk of bacterial infection and local tissue damage due to MPA being injected.

The ACMD notes that the initial TCDO has been effective in halting the problematic proliferation of MPA since it was first introduced in November 2015. The effectiveness of the TCDO has been particularly evident in areas of Scotland where instances had been reported previously. Although anecdotal, the evidence indicates that the prevalence and the use seen prior to the TCDO seem to have abated, particularly in relation to intravenous injection. Notably, Police Scotland, which initially alerted the ACMD to the possible displacement of MPA from ethylphenidate has reported reduced instances of injecting MPA; the number of phone call and database inquiries to TOXBASE—part of the National Poisons Information Service, which provides NHS healthcare professionals with a 24-hour, year-round clinical toxicology information service—regarding MPA have reportedly decreased; and there has been a reported decrease in the availability of MPA in online markets.

Parliament’s approval of this order will enable UK law enforcement to continue action against traffickers and suppliers of temporary class drugs while the ACMD gathers evidence. The order also sends out a clear message to the public, especially to young people, that these drugs carry serious health risks. We know that the law cannot, on its own, deter all those inclined to use or experiment with these drugs. However, we expect the TCDO to continue to have a notable impact on the availability of and in turn the demand for these drugs.

As well as our legislative response, we continue to take action to reduce the demand for drugs and ensure that those who become dependent have access to the support that they need to recover. We will continue to update our public health messages to inform the public of the harms of new psychoactive substances using the latest evidence gathered from early warning systems. With that, and apologies for the use of so many acronyms, I beg to move.

My Lords, I have one concern, which I did not expect to have until I read the Explanatory Memorandum. This is of course the second temporary order in respect of MPA, and the memorandum tells us:

“The Secretary of State has received a recommendation from the ACMD that an order should be made on the basis that this substance is a drug that is being misused”—

we have heard about that—

“and that the misuse is having harmful effects”.

However the Explanatory Memorandum goes on to report the ACMD’s,

“difficulty in finding any significant data relating to harms, seizures and prevalence”,

of MPA since the first order. Can the Minister comment on that? I do not of course advocate the use of any drug, but if the ACMD has not been able to show evidence of harm, is there a danger that by banning this drug we might be pushing people towards harm from another drug that is used instead of it, rather than protecting them from it? It seemed an interesting pairing of comments, if you like, in the Explanatory Memorandum. Since we are talking about temporary orders, and the first temporary order has not apparently provided the opportunity to do what we would have expected it to do, it would be helpful to have a comment on that on record.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her explanation of the purpose of the order, which we support. As has been said, it replaces the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Temporary Class Drug) (No. 3) Order 2015. That order provided for temporary controls on the drug methiopropamine, known as MPA, which made it an offence to produce, import, export, supply or offer to supply it. The 2015 order expired after 12 months. This order replaces that 2015 order and continues the controls for another 12 months.

As has been said, the Secretary of State has the power to make a temporary class drug order as long as two conditions are met: first, that the drug is not yet classified as a class A, B or C drug, and, secondly, that the Secretary of State has consulted with or received recommendations from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and has determined that the drug in question is being or is likely be misused, has harmful effects and should be subject to controls.

MPA is a psychoactive substance similar to methamphetamine. Controls were placed on MPA at the recommendation of the ACMD. The ACMD’s assessment was that MPA was dangerous and had side-effects including anxiety, panic attacks and difficulty breathing, and had apparently been implicated in 22 deaths between 2012 and 2015. The ACMD also reported that MPA had become an injecting drug of choice. Following 12 months of temporary controls, however, the ACMD has reported anecdotal evidence that usage has declined. Police Scotland has reported reduced instances of injection, and the ACMD has pointed out a number of other reasons for believing that its use may be in decline, to which the Minister has already referred and which I do not intend to repeat.

The ACMD has also reported that currently there is insufficient evidence on harms, seizures and prevalence of MPA for it to make a permanent recommendation. That is why it has recommended that the drug, in all its variations, be subject to another 12 months of temporary control to allow it to gather and consider more evidence before it makes a substantive recommendation.

I hardly imagine that the point I wish to make is one that the Minister will be able to answer, but I will raise it nevertheless. We support the order, as I say, but we do not appear to have been provided by the ACMD with any reason why it believes, since sufficient evidence has not come to light in the first 12 months of an order, that sufficient evidence is likely to come to light in the next 12, which this order would cover. I merely put that point to the Minister but I imagine that, quite justifiably, she will say that that is something for the ACMD to comment on. Still, it seems a slight weakness in the letter from the ACMD to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, which contains its recommendation, that it remains rather silent on why it believes that that evidence may become available in the next 12 months, bearing in mind that it has not been available in the 12 months to date.

I thank both noble Lords for their comments, wisely asking why the ACMD thinks it can gather evidence in the next 12 months when it could not in the previous 12. In fact it has had only six months to gather evidence. I have gone through some of the harms, side-effects and problems as well as the results of the temporary order in Scotland. The evidence of the harms, to bolster the ACMD advice, will be available shortly, but the reality is that it has had only six months to gather the evidence, which is why it is asking for a further 12.

On the noble Baroness’s point about displacement activity, the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 should deter displacement to other drugs. With those explanations, I beg to move.

Motion agreed.