SUPPORTERS in Newport of a publicly-funded project to test new psychoactive substances, or “legal highs”, have hit back at criticism of the scheme.
The Welsh Government-funded project Welsh Emerging Drugs and Identification of Novel Substances (Wedinos) collects and tests unknown substances and encourages users to report the effects they have experienced.
Information on what substances it contains is then provided back to users – as well as its associated health effects.
A new psychoactive substance is a new narcotic or psychotropic drug that is not already listed under control of drugs legislation but which may pose a public-health threat.
Run by Public Health Wales, the service received £102,000 of taxpayers’ money from the Welsh Government in 2013-14.
Speaking out against the project, Darren Millar AM, Shadow Minister for Health, called the project a “novelty”.
He said: “Many Welsh taxpayers will be angry that, at a time when the Welsh NHS is still struggling to cope with the legacy of record-breaking cuts imposed by the Welsh Labour Government, ministers still seem to have the cash to throw resources at novelty programmes like Wedinos.”
In response, a Welsh Government Spokesman said: “We are taking action to help individuals and society deal with the problems of substance misuse.
“Wedinos can provide essential intelligence and can help save lives.”
The project has received support from the Newport-based Kaleidoscope scheme which supports people with drug problems.
Substance misuse worker, Dan Rowley, explained he has used the service to test samples after users reported unexpected effects.
Two samples he sent were of the stimulant drug Methedrone, also called Mcat or Meow Meow, but they actually turned out to be Methamphetamine or Crystal meth.
He said: “The use of new psychoactive substances is a growing problem and all the substances, be them classified as illegal or unclassified, are harmful.
“We are trying to get away from the term ‘legal’ as people think it means safe, and hopefully education will improve this.”
He explained that they are trying not to concentrate on the name of the drugs, but the effects they have on the body.
The unidentified drugs are submitted to Wedinos by users themselves, and participating organisations such as substance misuse services, youth clubs, night clubs and bars, local authorities, the ambulance service and the police.
Samples are sent for testing anonymously and the results posted on the Wedinos website.
National Lead for Substance Misuse for Public Health Wales, Josie Smith, said: “By knowing what new psychoactive substances contain, and what effects they have had on users – both expected and unexpected – we can issue pragmatic advice to users to help them make informed choices and to protect themselves from harm.
“It also allows us to share our findings with those working with new psychoactive substances, and this acts as an early warning system so that the relevant people are aware of the substances circulating in Wales and their potential effects.”