New powers for police in the fight against ‘legal highs’

Taking legal highs.
Taking legal highs.
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New legislation relating to legal highs will come into force in two weeks’ time.

The Act has already received Royal Assent, meaning the production, supply and importation of these potentially dangerous drugs is now prohibited nationwide.

Legal highs in a shop.

Legal highs in a shop.

The new legislation, which will be introduced on May 26, also gives police and other law enforcement agencies greater powers to tackle the reckless trade in these psychoactive substances and will see offenders face up to seven years in prison if convicted of associated offences.

A wealth of work has already taken place in Lincoln to tackle the use of these substances, including a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) banning people from taking legal highs in the city centre and the closure of two ‘head shops’ which had sold legal highs.

But the highs have also made their way onto the streets of south Lincolnshire in the last few years, particularly Spalding and Boston.

Under the new legislation anyone caught producing, supplying or importing psychoactive substances is likely to be charged with associated offences.

Ian Newell, business and public protection manager at Lincolnshire Trading Standards, said: “This new legislation will give us extra powers to shut down shops and UK-based websites which trade in legal highs.

“We will be able to work more effectively and support our enforcement partners to get these dangerous products off the streets.”

Last year leading drug and alcohol charity Addaction –which has a branch in Pinchbeck Road, Spalding –confirmed to the Free Press that these legal highs linked to death, poisoning and mental illness have joined the already dangerous cocktail of drugs on our streets.

They had seen a surge in the number of young people using legal highs, with at least two young users being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Figures for 2014/15 show that 114 people died in Britain as a result of experimenting with psychoactive substances.

Many people using them don’t seek help until they hit big problems, like the woman who walked into Addaction’s centre in Lincoln before collapsing unconscious on the floor.

Addaction’s service manager for Lincolnshire, Steve Hewish, said: “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’ and was shocked that she had such a terrible reaction.”

Police don’t know of any “head shops” in South Holland – and officers last year persuaded shopkeepers in Boston to stop selling psychoactive substances.

But the substances still find their way here via the Internet and street sellers.

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.”

Police issued their first warning about legal highs being sold locally in the summer of 2013 after local hospitals 
reported an increase in patients complaining of palpitations, chest pains, panic and breathing difficulties.

Some local schools had also suggested to the police that they suspected a limited number of pupils were regularly under the influence of these substances in class.

Later that year Lincolnshire Police and Trading Standards launched Operation Burdock to warn of the fatal danger posed by legal highs. They said police were finding users unconscious in the streets and those taken into custody needed constant observation due to unstable physical and psychological health.

• Before Christmas police said they were getting reports of a spate of illnesses linked to legal highs”following an upsurge in the number of patients going to Pilgrim Hospital’s accident and emergency department.

At one spell in November it was suggested as many as 10 people became ill within a few days.

Lincolnshire Police Insp Jim Manning said at the time: “People shouldn’t assume that just because a substance isn’t illegal to purchase, that it is safe to use.

“It is concerning to hear that a number of people have become ill enough to require hospital treatment after using these products and we would urge anyone to think very carefully about the risks they are taking.”

In January, 2014 a man was admitted to hospital after taking the legal high ‘Sensei’ in Spalding.

The high had been purchased from a shop in Boston and the case was one of a number of similar reports involving people being admitted to hospital after taking the substance.