Campaigners call for government to get tough on legal high suppliers

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  • Fareham MP who saw someone high on substance says it was ‘horrendous’ to watch
  • Young people speak of addiction to legal highs
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Campaigners say it is vital the government and local enforcers get tough on legal high suppliers.

A core part of The News’ campaign against the deadly substances is ensuring that legislation is passed that ensures tough penalties are imposed.

The Psychoactive Substances Bill, which seeks to impose a blanket ban on the production, distribution, sale and supply of legal highs, is currently going through parliament and is at the second reading stage in the House of Commons.

It has already passed through the House of Lords – but concerns have already been raised about the length of time the process is taking.

And we also want to see the government providing the police and councils with the necessary tools to enforce the clampdown.

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt has backed the need for a disciplined approach.

She said: ‘It’s great to raise awareness, and it’s good getting into schools and being on the front foot of the issue is really important.

‘But we need to do more than that with regards to these, particularly suppliers.

‘The difficulty of legislating, particularly legislating against a particular compound, is that once you impose a ban it just has to be tweaked slightly in order to make a new substance. What has worked well in other countries is focusing on the suppliers selling the legal high.

‘These people are avoiding any kind of responsibility.’

Fareham MP Suella Fernandes – who saw at first-hand the problems legal high use causes after spending a day with police – suspects the drug is being sold ‘under the counter’ in some parts of Fareham’s town centre.

She said: ‘I feel very strongly about this.

‘I saw first-hand the huge impact this is having on the police. The police have time, but they can’t currently charge you if you are in possession of a legal high. They can charge you if you deal or harm someone under the influence, but unlike cannabis, if you are taking a legal high you can’t do anything.

‘I saw someone high on legal highs and it was horrendous to watch.’

‘I want to see a blanket ban and I want for there to be penalties on people supplying it. That’s absolutely important and this is what the bill amounts to. We have a really big problem here. We can’t ignore it.’

Ms Fernandes added: ‘I don’t think we have the problem like Portsmouth has with the rise in head shops, but they are covertly being sold under the counter in parts of Fareham.’

Meanwhile, young people who have taken legal highs have spoken about the effect they’ve had on their lives and how addicted they’ve become.

One youngster said: ‘There are some mornings where the night before it’s worn off, and a few hours later I feel really bad in myself on the come down.’

Another anonymous user said: ‘I feel really bad inside like I’m never going to be able to get off it, I’m never going to be able to get myself away from it because it’s so addictive.’

And another shows how the drug causes paranoia.

They said: ‘At times I’m worried people are looking at me or saying something about me.’

LETTING CHILDREN KNOW OF THE RISKS

SCHOOLS are being taught the dangers of legal highs in a bid to deter pupils from taking the lethal substances.

As part of its own ‘lethal highs, fatal lows’ awareness campaign this month, Portsmouth City Council is running training sessions and holding special assemblies to educate staff and students.

Erika Anders, assistant headteacher of Mayfield School, in North End, which has hosted a legal highs awareness assembly, said real-life situations presented by the council ‘struck a chord’ with the students – and was a real eye opener for the staff.

She said: ‘For me, one of the things I found was, a lot of the staff seemed to be unaware of what a legal high is.

‘In my position, I know about it, yet for some of the staff were unaware these legal highs are out there and the effects they have on people.’

Ms Anders added: ‘Over the past few months, the awareness has been greater in the local and national news, there have been some serious cases where people have lost their lives through taking legal highs.

‘So it’s good the council is being positive and getting into schools, to deliver the message to the students.’

Portsmouth’s Tory environment and community safety boss, Councillor Rob New, said: ‘Many young people mistakenly think that because the substance is legal it is safe.

‘By taking legal highs, young people are risking their health as they can never be sure what they are getting or how it will affect them as an individual.

‘I’m pleased that we have a campaign solely focused on new psychoactive substances launching in Portsmouth.

‘The key message of the campaign that we want to get across to young people is that – just because it’s not illegal doesn’t mean it’s safe.’

THINK IT’S COOL? THINK AGAIN...

HEALTH experts have warned about the devastating impact legal highs have on the body.

Portsmouth substance misuse expert, Doctor Jane Boskovic, said the drug can cause multiple organ failure, leave people brain-dead and cause ‘mentally-enduring chronic psychosis’.

And Dr Boskovic said there was a case of a female user developing malignant hyperthermia, which ‘cooks’ a person’s muscles and causes the kidneys to shut down.

Legal high use can also lead to heart attacks, liver failure and the need for a liver transplant.

Dr Boskovic said: ‘To all young people who say it’s cool to take legal highs, I would say this – how trendy is it having to wear an incontinence pad because of the damage legal highs have done to your bladder? That’s not trendy while you are out wearing a mini skirt. And how cool is it being hooked up to dialysis because you don’t have a proper pair of lungs? And there’s the question of where on the waiting list should you be for a liver transplant.’

Janet Maxwell, director of public health at Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘New psychoactive substances are substances which produce the same or similar effects, to illegal drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy, but they are currently not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

‘They contain potentially dangerous substances as the chemicals have not been tested for safety, so users cannot be sure what the outcome will be. They can cause paranoia, seizures, coma and can also lead to death.’

If you are aged 18 or under and worried about legal high use, contact the Are You Sorted team on (023) 9284 1560 or go to areyousorted.co.uk.

Or call Portsmouth Recovery Hub on (023) 9275 1617.

SUPPORT FROM PARLIAMENT

MPs have thrown their weight behind The News’ campaign to see legal highs wiped out from society.

Havant MP Alan Mak, who has already asked the home secretary to ensure local police forces like Hampshire have sufficient powers to enforce a blanket ban, said: ‘So-called legal highs are actually lethal highs.

‘They’re dangerous and anti-social, so I welcome The News’ campaign to ban legal highs.

‘I’ve raised residents’ concerns about legal highs in parliament already with the home office and the government said they’re committed to banning them.

‘I look forward to working with The News, the police and local councils to end the use of legal highs across Havant and the Solent region.’

It comes after a legal high store opened in Market Parade, Havant earlier this year, called Gypsy King’s Coffee Shop.

Another Gypsy King’s, in Commercial Road, Portsmouth, was ordered to close after police believed it was having a detrimental effect on the community.

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage said: ‘People presume that “legal” means “safe”, and that as you can buy legal highs over the counter that they are going to be risk free.

‘But these substances can be just as lethal as their illegal counterparts, and we’ve seen tragic cases locally where people have died as a result of taking them.

‘I am proud of the work that local organisations such as Motiv8 are doing to educate young people about the dangers of legal highs.’

Meon Valley MP and Tory whip George Hollingbery said: ‘The government absolutely shares the concerns about so-called “legal highs” which are a scourge on society.

‘It is precisely for this reason that we have brought forward the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which will make it a criminal offence to produce, supply or import these psychoactive substances.

‘It also gives the police greater powers to tackle individuals and establishments who are making these substances available to the public.

‘I welcome The News highlighting this important issue with their campaign.’