Portsmouth dads lead fight against legal highs

Carl Dearing (left), and Chris Warneford
Carl Dearing (left), and Chris Warneford
Police in Middle Street, Portsmouth, over the weekend.

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DISTRAUGHT father Chris Warneford has led calls for the law on legal highs to be changed after his son’s life was ‘destroyed’ by years of substance abuse.

He spoke out about the dangers of unclassified drugs that are not against the law as the government looks to overhaul the way they are monitored.

The Home Office is leading a review into how the UK’s laws and enforcement against such substances can be improved.

Options include the expansion of legislation to ensure police and law enforcement agencies have better powers.

Currently, unknown drugs that come on to the market either online or in shops are deemed legal and fit for sale until the government acts on intelligence and makes them illegal.

But campaigners like Mr Warneford say this isn’t the right course of action as by the time a certain substance is banned, different versions of the same drug are then made to ensure it stays legal.

Instead, they say a policy like one adopted in New Zealand where all unknown drugs are illegal until proven safe should be implemented instead.

It resulted in 95 per cent of suppliers in that country going out of business.

Mr Warneford, 61, of Farlington, said his 31-year-old son became psychotic after regularly taking a synthetic version of cocaine which he says is freely available on the internet.

Mr Warneford, who did not want his son’s name revealed, said: ‘It’s ruined his life completely. I don’t want any other parent to have to go through this.

‘The substance he settled on started sending him psychotic.

‘He would think there were cameras coming out of the walls.

‘He would rip down the smoke alarms because he had looked up on the internet and found out there was some form of camera within the alarm and thought someone was watching him.’

Mr Warneford said his son began taking legal highs – also known as new psychoactive substances – when he was about 19.

He said he was now using a legal synthetic form of cannabis which has helped to subdue him and is available in shops across Portsmouth.

It comes after the death of laboratory technician Martin Gatenby, who died at the age of 27 last year after suffering a fatal side-effect from an ecstasy-type substance.

An inquest at Portsmouth Guildhall earlier this year heard Martin, who worked at the labs at Queen Alexandra Hospital, had experimented with legal highs over many years.

Carl Dearing’s 31-year-old son is a heroin addict and has experimented with legal highs before.

He said one of the reasons addicts also turn to legal substances is because they’re cheaper. ‘That seems to be the thing and obviously the problem is with young people now,’ he said.

Mr Dearing and Mr Warneford met health and police officials as well as Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt this week to discuss the government review and talk of their experiences.

Ms Mordaunt said one of the points made was that shops selling legal highs should be licensed, though the Home Office recently ruled that out.

‘The meeting produced a clear consensus that better regulation of any product that is being sold legally is needed and the premises should be licensed,’ she said.

‘The police and trading standards need more powers and I will be writing to the Baker review to ensure those points are made.’

Avalon, in Fawcett Road, Southsea, sells a range of herbal blends including Magic Dragon Doob, Blueberry Haze and King Cobra.

The shop’s manager, Andrew Holt, said they are intended to be collectable items and not consumed.

While there is no warning printed on the product, the shop puts its own safety message on them and in descriptions of the products online.

But Mr Holt admitted there had been instances where police had turned up to inform him his products had been used in other ways.

‘We put a description on most of our products saying they are not for human consumption,’ he said. ‘Adults should be able to make their own informed choices, but the huge question is why so many people feel the need to self-medicate.

‘I can’t follow customers down the road to see if they are using something from my shop in the correct manner.’

Drugs can have a ‘devastating’ impact on people’s lives - police

LEGAL doesn’t necessarily mean safe.

That’s the message of Hampshire Constabulary as it seeks to make people aware of the dangers of taking unknown substances.

A Hampshire Constabulary spokesman said: ‘Generally speaking, these are substances that are not fit for human consumption.

‘Hampshire Constabulary has responded to and investigated several high profile cases of people who’ve become unwell or sadly died after taking such substances.

‘We want to help prevent any further incidents which is why education is vital.

‘People often have no idea what they are actually taking because the substance is not labelled correctly or consistently.’

The force, as part of a campaign to reduce harm and drug-related violence in Hampshire, has developed an education package for schools which includes information about legal psychoactive substances.

‘We want to demonstrate to them the often devastating personal, social, health and financial implications taking drugs can have on them and their loved-ones,’ the spokesman said.

The Home Affairs Select Committee has praised police forces that are making use of legislation to prosecute suppliers of legal highs.

Substances are similar to illegal narcotics

LEGAL highs are substances which produce similar effects to illegal drugs such as cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy, but are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

They are not yet controlled because there is not enough research about their effects.

But more of these substances are being looked at to see what the dangers are and whether they should be made illegal.

Legal highs banned in recent times include mephedrone, the party drug also known as meow meow or M-Cat.

Two groups of psychoactive substances – NBOMe and Benzofuran compounds – are now class A and B drugs respectively.

Latest statistics show 97 people were found dead with legal highs in their system in 2012, up from 12 in 2009.

The findings of the review the government is undertaking is due to be published in the near future.

Norman Baker, the crime prevention minister, said: ‘The coalition government is determined to clamp down on the reckless trade in so-called ‘legal highs’, which have tragically already claimed the lives of far too many young people in our country.

‘Despite being marketed as legal alternatives to banned drugs, users cannot be sure of what they contain and the impact they will have on their health.’

A government already has a service in place called the Forensic Early Warning System, which tracks new legal highs.

If there is an issue with them then the government takes action. Temporary banning orders are also used.

Health official warns of risks

PORTSMOUTH City Council’s director of public health has spoken out about the effects legal highs are having on people’s health.

Janet Maxwell said drug users don’t really know what they are taking, so are not aware of what will happen to them.

‘Legal highs can cause panic, pyschosis and cause quite serious health issues, because they can speed up the heart,’ she said.

‘We see people collapse after taking these drugs.

‘People are ending up in hospital because they don’t know what they have been taking.

‘Some of these can have hallucinogenic effects and can cause accidents, and cause people to be unsafe and get into a dangerous situation.

‘People are really putting themselves at risk. We are seeing deaths in young people, and that’s because it turns out they have taken something from someone they don’t know.’