Legal highs become illegal under new laws

DCI Graham Gallagher
DCI Graham Gallagher
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Sellers of dangerous psychoactive substances could face up seven years in prison from Thursday as new laws to help prevent harm caused by so-called ‘legal highs’ come into force.

The battle to protect Lancashire's communities from the explosion of legal highs has been a frustrating one, with seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel - until now.

Authorities have been faced with an endless battle as for every newly classified illegal substance, another tweaked recipe would be brought onto the market which was not illegal.

The impact in some parts of the county has been profound.

Last May, six Lancaster University students were hospitalised after taking “Spice”, a general name for a cannabis-like legal high.

Figures obtained by the Evening Post last year have shown they were also linked to 159 police incidents in Lancashire in 12 months.

The chemicals , engineered by experimenters, mimic the same effects as hard street drugs, and carry deadly health risks, but their makeup change so quickly that previous legislation could not keep up with them.

This meant young people across Lancashire were able to easily obtain them under the labels of plant food and bath salts, online and in seedy shops.

Legal highs have also become a major issue in prisons.

According to the UN’s World Drug Report, the UK had the largest legal high market in the EU in 2013.

Today's Psychoactive Substances Act will provide a blanket ban on the production, supply and importation of new psychoactive substances, fundamentally changing the way police tackle legal highs and making new drugs that appear on the market illegal quicker than ever before.

Det Chief Insp Graham Gallagher today revealed at least one Lancashire Police call out a day is thought to be linked to legal highs, creating a large demand on already pressured services.

He says: "We know there's a strong body of evidence around the dangers of psychoactive substances. As public servants we are here to protect vulnerable people from coming to harm.

"This legislation is designed to ban the effect of them rather than the substance itself. If it creates a psychoactive effect then it is covered by this legislation.

"It covers things like laughing gas and synthetic cannabinoids.

"It isn't an offence to possess them - but importantly it gives police the power to seize them from someone

"It is difficult to pinpoint figures on how many incidents there have been - but we can says year on year incidents involving legal highs have increased.

"This includes things like attempted suicides, sectioning under the Mental Health Act. It creates large demand on services."

Chris Smith, public health worker from Lancashire County Council, told the Evening Post Trading Standards would also continue to play an active role in monitoring shops distributing the substances.

He adds: " A new steering group involving ourselves and Blackpool and Blackburn's unitary authorities, has been set up in the county to look at what, how and where substances are available.

"We also commission treatment services for drugs and these services are already designed in a way to deal with people who have issues with psychoactive substances. Help is available."

Nationally, deaths involving legal highs are said to only form around 6% of total drug fatalities.

However Lancashire's coroner Dr James Adeley conceded last year that the true figure could be much higher, as synthetic drugs are rapidly developed and testing for them is often complicated as it is not unusual for a person to have taken it alongside other drugs such as cocaine.

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for New Psychoactive Substances, Commander Simon Bray added: “This new legislation is a very positive step forward. It highlights the government’s commitment to supporting law enforcement, including the police, in our efforts to combat dangerous drugs.

"A blanket ban on new psychoactive substances will make it simpler to deal with those drugs which are unsafe but may not yet be controlled. It will also make it easier to tackle so called 'legal highs' which may contain mixtures including already illegal drugs.”

" A variety of options exist in enforcing this legislation including prohibition notices, premises notices, prohibition orders and premises orders, which allow police or local authorities to require people to stop stocking, selling or supplying psychoactive substances.

Steps have been taking place across the county to raise awareness of changes to the law.

Head shop owners and other suppliers have been given time to adapt to the legislation and stop the trading them.

Information about psychoactive substances can be reported to the police on 101 or to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.