World drugs report highlights need for legal highs action, says Swanswell

26 June 2013

A new report indicating that the UK has the largest market for ‘legal highs’ in the European Union highlights the need for urgent action, says Swanswell.

The national recovery charity, which wants to achieve a society free from problem alcohol and drug use, is responding to the World Drugs Report 2013, issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

According to the report, 670,000 people in Britain aged between 15 and 24 have experimented with ‘legal highs’ at least once and there has been an alarming increase in ‘legal highs’, otherwise known as New Psychoactive Substances or NPS (reports BBC News).

Although Mephedrone use has fallen in England and Wales since it was banned in 2010, it’s still the most widely used of the ‘legal highs’ in the UK.

Earlier this month, two other ‘legal highs’ were made illegal while government experts assess whether they should be permanently controlled. BenzoFury and NBOMe are now subject to a 12-month Temporary Class Drug Order (TCDO).

The report found that the use of traditional drugs - such as heroin or cocaine – is stable across the World but ‘legal highs’ are ‘proliferating at an unprecedented rate’ with almost 251 new substances identified by mid 2012.           

Chris Robinson, Swanswell’s Director of Services, said: ‘While not surprising, the report should act as a wake-up call to society about the astonishing growth of ‘legal highs’. It’s particularly worrying that the UK has the largest market for ‘legal highs’ in Europe.

It’s clear that urgent action needs to be taken to tackle ‘legal highs’ – they’re being developed faster than the law can keep up with them.

‘However, taking action to reduce problem alcohol and drug use isn’t something any government, organisation or individual can do on their own. We all have a part to play.’

Although ‘legal highs’ are marketed as legal substances, it doesn’t mean they are safe or approved – it just means they have not yet been made illegal to use or possess.

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

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

Chris added: ‘These new substances are very dangerous and not enough is known about the long term effects because of the relatively short time they’ve been in existence, compared to illicit drugs such as heroin or cocaine.

People will never really know what’s in them or what the effects are, particularly if mixed with other drugs or alcohol, so we’re urging people to think twice about using them and to get help from organisations like Swanswell if they’re worried about legal highs.’

Swanswell is currently supporting a campaign led by the Leicestershire and Rutland Substance Misuse Strategic Team 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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