For several years the CSJ has heard repeated reports of people, especially the young and the homeless, suffering the effects of dangerous and addictive drugs. The drugs are sold in high street ‘head shops’ and though marked ‘not for human consumption’ there is wide acceptance that sellers know exactly what their customers intend – and often provide advice on consumption. In a remarkable outbreak of cross-party consensus, the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats backed the CSJ called to end the open sale of these drugs and it is welcome news that the new Government has acted so quickly.
Today’s release of the European Drug Report is another reminder of why the Government is right to ban the sale of New Psychoactive Substances (so-called ‘legal highs’). The report states ‘In 2014, Member States notified the EU Early Warning System of 101 new psychoactive substances not previously reported. This represented an increase of 25 per cent compared with 2013’.
Furthermore, the report profiles several of these substances, 4,4’-DMAR (a psycho-stimulant) and MT-45 (an opioid similar in strength to morphine). The former has been linked to 31 deaths in Poland, Hungary and the United Kingdom over a year, while the latter has been detected in 28 deaths in Sweden over a 9-month period.
Since the Government announced its intention to bring in legislation to end the sale of these type of drugs in high street ‘head shops’ there has been a burst of scaremongering and claims that the Home Secretary plans to “ban fun”. Alcohol, air-freshener, potpourri have all been pointed to as products that might fall foul of the legislation. A similar law, however, was enacted in 2010 in Ireland and the aforementioned products are all still available.
Another charge has been that some of the deaths related to NPS should not be included in the case as they were actually banned. This misses the point of what the legislation is trying to achieve. Because police and local authority trading standards bodies do not have the resources to check every product that is being sold (remember the horsemeat scandal) it has been found that some suppliers have been selling illegal drugs as ‘legal highs’.
With two new substances coming on to the market every week, the Government is right to follow the Irish example and get ahead of the chemists. The number of ‘head shops’ went from over 100 to nearer 10 and when the CSJ spoke to doctors in A&E departments across Ireland, they told us that admissions of young people suffering the effects of these drugs had sharply declined.
The proposed ban is of course only part of the solution. We need to educate young people and build their resilience, for example by encouraging use of evidence-based schemes like the Good Behaviour Game. We also need to ensure that treatment services, such as the Club Drug Clinic, are available to those who develop dependence on these substances.
There is plenty more to do but this legislation is a welcome start.