Sunday, March 17, 2013

Scottish Government to tackle growing problem of drug culture ‘legal highs’

The Scottish Government has announced it is bringing together a range of experts, including the police and those with expertise in health, and organisations working in the community and with young people, to discuss how the problem of legal highs in Scotland can be tackled.

Legal highs are drugs designed to produce similar effects to illegal drugs such as cocaine or ecstasy, but fall outwith the control of the UK Misuse of Drugs Act by being labelled as products such as ‘plant food’, ‘bath salts’ or ‘not for human consumption’.

With the latest data from Europe showing that the production and availability of legal highs has increased in recent years, this event is taking place to discuss how these substances are being sold and used in Scotland, assess the health issues associated with them and identify practical actions to collectively combat the problem.

A range of people and organisations with experience and expertise in this area will be invited to the event, hosted by Community Safety and Legal Affairs Minister Roseanna Cunningham.  These will include the police and other enforcement agencies such as trading standards, drug treatment services, the NHS, youth work and third sector organisations.

Members of the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Drugs will also be invited.

Ms Cunningham said: “Drug markets are changing internationally and the emergence of legal highs poses serious challenges within Scotland, the UK and internationally. As we have seen all too often in the recent past, legal highs can be extremely dangerous. Although reclassification of drugs is reserved to the UK Government, we already work with the Home Office and with police forces in Scotland to identify and tackle the supply of new kinds of legal highs that threaten public health, it is a constantly evolving challenge due to the complex nature and the apparent ease with which legal highs can be produced and sold.”

Ms Cunningham continued : “It is vital that we look at what can be done and this event will be the first stage of a longer term process in Scotland to improve what we know about legal highs and their use in Scotland. This work will further strengthen our practical responses to the challenges posed by these dangerous substances and ensure we do all we can to stop their sale, reduce their demand and ensure our services are enabled to respond.”

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Sir Harry Burns said: “The availability of legal highs represents a significant concern to public health and it is important we do all we can to learn more about what is in them, their dangers to health and what can be done to stop people from using them. Just because a drug is sold as being legal, it does not mean it is safe, as we have seen from those who have already suffered serious effects to their health after taking these drugs. This event provides an important opportunity to look at how organisations in Scotland can work together and play a role in making lasting change.”

The event will take place on Wednesday 17 April in Edinburgh.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction Annual Report 2012: The State of the Drugs Problem in Europe, gathered new data on legal highs across Europe. The report states:

Between 2005 and 2011, 164 new psychoactive substances were formally notified through the early warning system.

In 2011, for the third consecutive year, a record number of substances (49) were detected for the first time in Europe, up from 41 substances in 2010 and 24 in 2009.

The number of online shops offering to supply customers in at least one EU member state with psychoactive substances or products likely to contain them has continued to increase. In the January 2012 snapshot, 693 online shops were identified, up from 314 in January 2011 and 170 in January 2010.

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