A top drugs cop has warned of the dangers of so called legal highs following an announcement in the Queen’s speech that a blanket ban will be applied to the distribution,sale and supply of the increasingly popular psychoative substances.
In 2013 - the most up to date statistics available - 60 people died across the country as a result of taking legal highs. None of these deaths occurred in Bedfordshire but some people have needed hospital treatment in the county.
Det Insp Paul Baron from Bedfordshire Police, who has welcomed news of a crackdown on these types of drugs, said: “Legal highs are an emerging threat to the UK and worldwide.
“Legal high isn’t a term I like too much - the police use psychoactive substances. It is the general public that uses the term legal high because it suggests it is safe to take.
“Just because something is referred to as a legal high doesn’t mean it is safe to take.”
Currently the manufacturers of products use a loophole in the law to legally produce substances that mimic already controlled drugs like cocaine and cannabis.
“Then there is a cat and mouse process,” said Det Insp Baron.
“It is a grey area and I think this is what the government is seeking to address.
“It will set out clarity for both the law enforcement officers and also those who are operating in the trade.”
Last month five University of Lancaster students were admitted to hospital after they were thought to have smoked a synthetic substance commonly known as Spice, which was legal until 2009.
Many legal highs are sold under brand names like Clockwork Orange, Bliss and Mary Jane and have been directly linked to poisoning, emergency hospital admissions including mental health services and, in some cases, deaths.
These products are often sold as bath sales, research chemicals or plant food and are advertised as ‘not for human consumption’ to get around the law.
Det Insp Baron said: “The dangers and challenges for people who want to chose to take these substances is they don’t quite know what it is they are taking.
“With these things it is not helped by the term legal high because it perhaps tempts people of a certain age group into thinking if it is legal it must be fine.
“Just because there is this phrase legal high doesn’t mean it is fine and doesn’t mean it is safe.
“My approach would be, the safest way to avoid any risk of hospitalisaiton or death is not it take it but history tells us that individuals will make choices in life that are perhaps not always the same as what we would make.
“Education is the key, so don’t go into this with your eyes shut.”
The new Psychoactive Substances Bill will make it an offence to produce, supply, offer to supply, possess with intent to supply, import or export psychoactive substances.
It will criminalise the trade in legal highs with prison sentences of up to seven years but will not make personal possession a criminal offence.
Det Insp Baron said: “This is an emerging situation that needs to be addressed in much the same way I’m sure as many many years ago the situation around controlled drugs started to develop.”
Bedfordshire Police is working with partners and visiting schools and university to highlight the dangers of legal highs.
“At Bedfordshire Police we are committed to working together with the public and partner agencies to fight drug crime and keep our county safe,” said Det Insp Baron.