London clinic warns of ‘party drug’ addiction among gay men

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A London clinic set up to treat addiction to ‘party drugs’ says the majority of its patients are young gay men.

Dr James Bell, head of the Party Drugs Clinic at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, said most of his clinic’s patients were “young, well-educated, professional gay men”.

The clinic was set up in 2009 and is the first in the UK to offer a specialist programme to help GBL addicts. It also treats addictions to drugs such as mephedrone and speed. It treats patients from all over the country.

Recent research published by the UK Drug Policy Commission suggested that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are three times more likely to use drugs than the general population. The research also suggested that gay people are likely to be early adopters of new drugs.

Dr Bell said: “It is always dangerous to make assumptions or stereotypes about minority groups, however the evidence does indicate that drug use is higher among gay men.

“I have seen charming, privileged and formerly hardworking young people who found themselves dependent on GBL neglecting friends, family and work commitments and experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop.”

Coming off drugs such as GBL (gammabutyrolactone) can cause severe side effects.

Dr Bell said: “My experience is that many GBL-dependent patients have great difficulty accessing treatment, and we need to tailor drug services to meet the needs of the gay community.”

He added: “Patients frequently lament, ‘I didn’t know it was addictive’. Most policy doctors and policy makers are equally unaware that these new drugs can be addictive, and withdrawal can be life threatening.”

Mephedrone and GBL have now been made illegal but Dr Bell sad that experts were playing “catch-up” because new drug compounds can be mixed to get around legislation.

He said: “What we have seen in the last few years is a new breed of designer drugs, made purely to evade the laws surrounding controlled substances. Earlier this year it was ‘meow meow’ (mephedrone), and in recent weeks we have seen the emergence of ‘ivory wave’ (psychoactive stimulant MDPV).”

“We are all playing catch-up as new compounds are recognised, banned – and new drugs appear again, the risks of which slowly become apparent,” he said.