SO-CALLED legal highs have a ‘massive grip’ on Portsmouth’s homeless community, the man in charge of the city taskforce combating street problems has warned.
Councillor Paul Godier is concerned about the devastating effect the drugs, which are officially known as New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) and were banned last year, are having on the most vulnerable.
He says dealers are targeting rough sleepers as NPS are cheap to buy and their dwindling wider popularity means they are easier to get hold of.
And he’s calling on the government to bring in a ‘nationwide campaign’ in schools to teach youngsters about the dangers of taking the drugs – last year made illegal by the government following a series of campaigns – before addiction takes hold.
It comes after the Society of St James, the charity which has linked up with the council to tackle homelessness, compared deprivation in Portsmouth to ‘Victorian England’.
Cllr Godier said: ‘The problems we’re facing are a fall-out from legal high usage.
‘People are selling them and they are targeting the homeless and vulnerable.
‘The money you make from selling these drugs is so small, that’s why.
‘And these drugs are so dirty; very few people are willing to experiment with them.
‘The government must take massive responsibility and pay for a nationwide programme of sorts.
‘The problem we have got is it’s got a massive grip on the homeless; harder than I have seen in 20 years.
‘These young lads and girls are having one joint of this and they are off their head and think it’s the most powerful drug in the world.
‘One of the hardest things I have had to do since doing this job, was having to get one homeless person arrested because he was off his trolley in cuckoo land.
‘I have been talking to the bloke every single day for a year.
‘He doesn’t remember anything from the moment he took legal highs to the moment he was offering to beat up every person in Guildhall Square.
‘It’s a drug we still haven’t cracked yet. It’s not a legal high – it’s a packet of poison.’
It comes as government statistics reveal the number of recorded rough sleepers in Portsmouth more than doubled from 15 in 2015 to 37 by the end of 2016, which campaigners say demands attention.