Lincoln has taken a stand against the rise of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), often called ‘legal highs’, and it should be praised.
Following figures revealed by the CSJ which showed more police incidents involving these drugs, the town is banning their consumption on the street and imposing fines.
This sends a strong signal but it will do nothing to prevent their sale and also their consumption outside the designated area.
From young people experimenting with substances packaged as sweets, to prisoners returning to Lincoln from jail, people are using these drugs and suffering the consequences.
Dangerous and often addictive, NPS are similar to illegal drugs but have had their chemistry tweaked meaning they are not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act and are legal to sell. Some, such as ‘Spice’, are equivalent to highly potent cannabis, others are designed to imitate drugs like LSD or even heroin.
Their rise has taken a growing toll across Britain. Last year we found that the number of people in addiction treatment for taking NPS jumped 216 per cent in England in the last five years. Tragically, in Scotland alone there were 113 deaths related to NPS in 2013.
In terms of the pressure on police, our research has revealed that in England, the number of incidents involving a ‘legal high’ rose from 1,365 in 2013 to 3,664 in 2014 (an increase of 169 per cent). In Lincolnshire recorded the term ‘legal high’ in a massive 820 incidents last year. This is up more than double from 347 in 2013 – but Lincolnshire Police should be praised for keeping a fuller record than other forces.
As ever, it is the most vulnerable in society that are suffering from the increased supply of these drugs – with strong drugs available for pocket-money prices. Because they are not covered by the law, they can be sold openly on the high street, normally in ‘head shops’, though also in places such as garages and petrol stations.
Marked ‘not-for-human-consumption’, they are packaged like sweets and labelled ‘research chemicals’ or ‘plant food’, however any visit to a ‘head shop’ reveals their true nature. Many of these shops, historically known for selling cannabis pipes and other paraphernalia, are dotted throughout Britain selling dangerous and addictive substances over the counter. Worryingly, there are even reports that some give free samples to homeless people to test the dosages they should sell.
Although they are also available on the internet, we have heard that their presence on the high street means that young people in particular find them easy to obtain. There is also evidence that their public availability means some people think they are regulated and safe.
To date the Government has failed to respond quickly enough, banning each substance once it has been analysed. The chemists, however, are always once step ahead and the trade continues to rise.
That is why we have called for the Government to bring forward legislation similar to that used successfully in Ireland. In 2010, after an explosion in the use of NPS, the Government introduced a ban on the sale of psychoactive substances (with exceptions for things like tobacco) and gave the police and courts the power to close down shops that refused to stop trading in these deadly drugs.
We spoke to doctors in A&E units across Ireland and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Before the ban, young people were increasingly being admitted with psychotic episodes, heart failure and injuries related to their NPS use. However, after the ban was introduced, the numbers of young people admitted fell significantly.
Although both the Prime Minster and Home Secretary have indicated their support for a ban, no firm action has been taken, or even announced. When young people’s lives are at stake, the Government must get on and end this deadly trade.