Accident and emergency departments in Sussex, England have noted a surge in young people overdosing on a new psychoactive drug that is still legal under UK law. Mephedrone, also known as 4-methylmethcathinone (4-MMC) is classified as a stimulant with properties similar to MDMA (Ecstasy). Often referred to by partygoers as "Meow" or "Meow Meow", it can be legally purchased online in many European countries in powder or pill form. Available since 2007, it is already the fourth most popular drug by clubgoers according to a survey by the UK's National Addiction Centre. While intended to induce euphoria, mental alertness, and general highs in partygoers, adverse effects resulting from overdoses include heart palpitations, rashes, seizures, and psychiatric symptoms. At least one death linked to mephedrone use has been reported in Sweden when an 18-year old woman went into convulsions and died in December, 2008. The selling of Mephedrone has since been made illegal in that country.
In addition to fears of the rash of overdose cases, doctors are also warning of the possible long-term effects of mephredone use given that the drug has only been available for a relatively short time. Due to the relatively low cost of the drug and the perception that it is legal, teenagers seem less hesitant in taking repeated doses of mephedrone to maintain their "highs". The potential medical and social costs are just beginning to be understood. Despite health warnings associated with mephedrone use, its legal status in most countries remains unclear. While illegal in Australia, Sweden, Germany, Norway, Estonia, and Israel, other European countries have yet to pass legislation against buying and selling mephedrone. It has not classified under the Controlled Substances Act in the U.S. to date and is apparently legal in Canada as well (any readers with more recent information are welcome to respond).
Whether mephedrone continues to enjoy its current popularity as a party drug will largely depend on its legal status and reputation as a "safe" high. Although mephedrone overdose cases are not as common as cases involving other psychoactive substances with a longer history, that may well change with time.