Legal Highs: identify, educate

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The message that education and identification is key in the campaign against ‘Legal Highs’ was reinforced at a meeting in Forfar last week.

A small informal gathering met at the Lochside Leisure Centre on Thursday night to hear an update on the situation in Angus and nationally with Legal Highs, or more accurately, New Psychoactive Substances (NPS).

Lib-Dem Angus councillor David May chaired the meeting and guest speaker Alison McInnes MSP was able to bring the audience up to speed with the activities of the cross-party working group on NPS of which she is a part.

Personal experiences, anecdotes and ideas were also discussed enthusiastically at the meeting.

The Lib-Dem MSP said: “One of the problems I think we have is this label ‘Legal Highs’, because it gives it this kind of normalisation and it gives it a kind of legitimacy, which I suspect it shouldn’t have.

“Just because it is legal does not mean to say that it is safe.

“It is a moving target, these are drugs and substances that mimic illegal drugs and they are constantly evolving, and as soon as the government at Westminster identifies a new one and bans it, they change the chemical makeup slightly in order to be able to get round about it. I think in the last year over 200 new substances have been banned, and yet we still see them coming through.”

One of the main issues also discussed was the lack of quality control in NPS, which can contain a dizzying array of chemicals, and the suggestion was raised that NPS merchants be held responsible for what they sell.

Another danger identified is the trend to mix NPS use with alcohol, which can have unforeseen consequences.

Mrs McInnes said: “We know that young people often take this after they’ve been drinking alcohol, so we know from evidence that’s been gathered in Tayside region that a thousand people have attended hospital in the last three years in Tayside after taking Legal Highs and 92 of those have been Accident and Emergency cases.

“If we look at a national level, in 2013, which is what we have the latest figures for, across England Scotland and Wales we’ve had 120 deaths directly attributable to this, and of course one of the problems is that not all health services and certainly not the A&E are actually logging the things as they come in, so we’re not entirely sure if that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

The MSP also discussed the ins and outs of the Expert Review Group set up by Roseanna Cunningham MSP last year and the various legal and practical challenges they faced.

Councillor David May also emphasised the vital importance of NPS education and praised the work of Angus schools in the matter.

He said: “It is definitely being covered completely in the schools.

“The challenge now is it depends on how it is covered. If we try and do the telling, let’s face it that’s probably going to be ineffective, but if we try to get them involved in the discussion and presenting it in the right sort of way, this is what I discussed with the Head of Service and they have been quite innovative in how they get the message across, sometimes with the use of drama, sometimes with quite startling DVDs.

“It’s the way the message is communicated.”