Swanswell calls for more investment in legal highs research as national deaths soar

13 February 2014

Swanswell’s urging the government to increase investment in drugs research and education following news of an 800% rise in deaths relating to ‘legal highs’ in just three years.

The national recovery charity, which wants to achieve a society free from problem alcohol and drug use, is responding to a new report by researchers from St George’s, University of London, released this week (BBC News).

It found the number of cases where ‘legal highs’ – also known as novel psychoactive substances or NPS – were identified as the cause of death had increased from 10 in 2009 to 68 in 2012.

Researchers also discovered that the prevalence of NPS in post-mortem toxicology tests had risen by 800% - from 12 in 2009 to 97 in 2012 (Sky News).

The report comes after the government announced a review of legal highs, led by Professor Les Iversen, which will consider widening legislation around enforcement to help protect public health and further restrict supply.

Although ‘legal highs’ are marketed as legal substances, it doesn’t mean they are safe  – it just means they have not yet been fully checked and a decision made about whether they are made an illegal drug to use or possess.

They’re often used like illegal substances such as cocaine or cannabis and can be very dangerous, particularly if mixed with other drugs or alcohol. They’re sometimes advertised as bath salts or plant food, with a warning they’re not fit for human consumption.

While the long term effects aren’t really known, legal highs cause reduced inhibitions, drowsiness, excited or paranoid states, coma, seizures and, in the worst cases death.

Debbie Bannigan, Swanswell’s Chief Executive, said: ‘The number of deaths caused by the use of legal highs is deeply worrying and the figures should act as a stark reminder about the dangers of taking them.

Not enough is known about the long term effects of legal highs because they’ve not been around very long – unlike most of the illicit drugs used by the people we help – and new versions are quickly created after a ban comes in.

‘We need to see increased investment in national research to help us understand exactly what the risks are. It’ll help develop better drugs education, so that people recognise the harms of legal highs and can make informed decisions about their use.’

Swanswell is currently supporting a campaign led by the Leicestershire and Rutland Substance Misuse Partnership called ‘Legal highs, lethal lows’, which highlights the risks of recreational drug use and links to health risks in isolation or combined with alcohol.







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