UK’s youth ‘legal high’ use is the highest in Europe. The drugs were linked to 97 deaths in 2012 – and could top 400 in 2016 Think tank urges punishment for high street shops selling dangerous drugs.
Deaths linked to ‘legal highs’ could overtake those linked to heroin by 2016, according to experts on addiction.
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) claims hospital admissions are soaring and forecasts that deaths linked to the drugs, sold with names such as Clockwork Orange’, ‘Bliss’ and ‘Mary Jane’, could be higher than heroin in just two years. The CSJ says many legal highs are sold in ‘head shops’, of which there are close to 250 in the UK.
It wants to see the introduction of a scheme similar to one in Ireland which made it easier for police and courts to close down head shops that were thought to be selling NPS. This resulted in the number of the shops dropping from more than 100 to less than 10.
Despite small reductions in the number of people using heroin and those drinking every week, the think-tank says the costs of addiction are rising, with alcohol-related admissions to hospital doubling in a decade.
The rise of ‘legal highs’ – or new psychoactive substances (NPS) – were linked to 97 deaths in 2012.
Hospital admissions due to legal highs rose by 56 per cent between 2009-12, according to new CSJ data. The think-tank forecasts that on current trends deaths related to the drugs could be higher than heroin by 2016 – at around 400 deaths per year. The report also calls for greater investment in the clampdown of online ‘legal high’ sales.
The problem was highlighted in August last year when Adam Hunt, 18, died after taking the psychoactive substance AMT at his home in Southampton, Hampshire, after purchasing it from a website.
An inquest heard how the keen football fan had told a friend he planned to take the drug, which he believed had the same effects as ecstasy, but died four days later.
A ‘treatment tax’ should be added to the cost of alcohol in shops to fund a new generation of rehabilitation centres and stem the tide of Britain’s addiction problem, the report recommends.
The CSJ says many legal highs are sold in ‘head shops’, of which there are close to 250 in the UK. File picture of a head shop in Dublin
It is also highly critical of the Government’s flagship drug and alcohol prevention programme, FRANK, which it describes as ‘shamefully inadequate’, noting that a recent survey found that only one in ten children would call the ‘FRANK’ helpline to talk about drugs.
The CSJ also says the NHS, Public Health England and local authorities risk ‘giving up’ on many addicts. ‘Addiction rips into families, makes communities less safe and entrenches poverty,’ said CSJ Director Christian Guy.
‘For years full recovery has been the preserve of the wealthy – closed off to the poorest people and to those with problems who need to rely on a public system. We want to break this injustice wide open.’
The report says 300,000 people in England are addicted to opiates and/or crack, 1.6 million are dependent on alcohol and one in seven children under the age of one live with a substance-abusing parent.
Every year drugs cost society around £15 billion and alcohol £21 billion.
Researchers say residential treatment – the most effective form of abstinence-based treatment – has been continually cut and are calling for this to be reversed. A ‘treatment tax’ should be added to off-licence alcohol sales to fund rehab for people with alcohol and drug addictions, the CSJ said.
Under the scheme, a levy of a penny per unit would be added by the end of the next Parliament to fund recovery services to the tune of £1.1billion over the five years. It would be spent solely on setting up a network of abstinence-based rehabilitation centres and funding sessions within them.
Last month ministers called the rise in the use of legal highs a ‘national emergency’.
MPs spoke out after several leading UK festivals, including Glastonbury and Bestival, banned the sale of the drugs, and called for more action to be taken against a problem blighting communities around the country.
Democratic Unionist Jim Shannon described the festivals’ involvement as proof that there is concern ‘at every level’ about the consequences of new manufactured chemical highs that have not been banned.
He told a Westminster Hall debate: ‘There is concern at every level about what legal highs do. It’s fantastic to see such influential festivals getting involved in the campaign to rid our country of these potentially fatal substances, but more is required.’
Meanwhile, Labour frontbencher Toby Perkins described how legal highs had made a part of his Chesterfield constituency town centre a ‘no-go area’ as they fuel anti-social behaviour among teenagers who use the drugs. Mr Perkins claimed that head shops are ‘mocking the law’ and called for councils to be given more power to deal with problems in their areas.
He described the problem as a ‘national emergency’, saying: ‘The truth is that some retailers are mocking the law, laughing at powerless regulators, while visiting misery and mayhem on our communities.’