Legal highs linked to death, poisoning and mental illness have joined the already dangerous cocktail of drugs on our streets.
Leading drug and alcohol charity Addaction has seen a surge in the number of young people using legal highs, officially called new psychoactive substances (NPS) with at least two young users in Lincolnshire being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Official figures from the middle of last year showed there were 3,446 people in the county having treatment from Addaction or its NHS equivalent, DART, in a bid to beat drug or alcohol addiction.
But the number in treatment – equal to the population of a small town – is likely to be the tip of the iceberg so far as overall drug use is concerned.
Figures for 2012 show that 97 people died in Britain as a result of experimenting with NPS.
Many people using NPS don’t seek help until they hit big problems, like the woman some weeks ago who walked into Addaction’s centre in Lincoln before collapsing unconscious on the floor.
People who have used ketamine over a long period of time have now been fitted with colostomy bags.Spalding detective constable Paul Smith
Addaction’s service manager for Lincolnshire, Steve Hewish, said then: “Our nurses gave her first aid and tended to her immediate needs but we had to call an ambulance. Later she came back to our service to thank us for helping her. She said she had smoked ‘Black Mamba’ – an NPS – and was shocked that she had such a terrible reaction.”
Police don’t know of any “head shops” (which sell legal highs) in South Holland – and officers last year persuaded shopkeepers in Boston to stop selling NPS.
But the substances still find their way here via the Internet and street sellers.
PC Martyn Chambers said police in Boston have seen “a noticeable increase” in NPS use in the town and surrounding villages.
“Some of this stuff is nasty,” he said. “These substances can cause heart failure and be lethal.”
DC Paul Smith, based in Spalding, said: “The term ‘legal high’ implies that these substances are safe. This is not the case.
“These substances have not been tested for side effects.
“At the time ketamine was classified as a Class C controlled drug, no one was aware of the effects of its long-term use. We are now aware that it causes irreversible bladder shrinkage.
“People who have used ketamine over a long period of time have now been fitted with colostomy bags.
“The long-term side effects of these substances is not the only problem. As there is no control over them, no-one actually knows – including the person selling them – what is in them. It is possible that two identical packets will contain completely different substances, or different strength of substance, which will affect the user in a completely different way.”
DC Smith said there were 114 recorded drug offences in South Holland in the last year and, in 2014, police discovered 16 separate cannabis grows in the district – including one in the bedroom of a house that was occupied – and an overall tally of just under 1,000 cannabis plants were destroyed.
He said the main drugs found by Spalding police are heroin, cocaine, MCAT, amphetamine and cannabis, with street deals ranging from £10-£40.
“The main drugs used by addicts that are involved in acquisitive crime (theft) are heroin and crack cocaine, although we are starting to see evidence of MCAT users being involved in acquisitive crime,” said DC Smith. “Some drug dealers will accept stolen property, rather than cash, for drugs.”
He said not all drug users are addicts – a lot are casual users who take substances at weekends, without their family or friends knowing about it, and hold down regular jobs.
The local DART team is managed from Boston and has more than 200 people in treatment in an area stretching from Skegness to Sutton Bridge.
DART offers help at Spalding’s Johnson Community Hospital as well as GP surgeries in South Holland. There are specialists and peer-to-peer groups.
Coordinator Cathy Hobbs said heroin and crack cocaine are the main drugs that people want to quit, along with cannabis and amphetamine. Overall, 40 per cent achieve the treatment goal resulting in successful discharge.
Some 86 people are being helped by Addaction at its base at Welland Workspace in Pinchbeck Road, Spalding.
• If you need help to quit, please call DART on 01205 314479 or Addaction on 01205 319920