Sellers of legal highs urged to examine their consciences

12 Oct 2013
by Neil Skinner

Businesses selling so-called “legal highs” to vulnerable young people should examine their consciences and think about the harm they are doing.

Framework, which provides accommodation and support to hundreds of vulnerable 16 – 25 year-olds in Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, says new psychoactive substances – mostly legal chemical compounds designed to mimic the effect of illegal drugs – are having a dangerous and destructive impact on many of the young people it supports.

Ahead of a special conference in Mansfield last Thursday, convened to discuss the most pressing issues facing young people, Framework released the findings of an internal survey* with young service users under 25, revealing that:

  • 30% of those surveyed took legal highs every day or knew someone who did. (This compares with 18% for alcohol use and 38% for tobacco.)
  • 69% had taken legal highs in the last year
  • Most believed legal highs are too easy to get hold of
  • Most believed legal highs were a problem
  • Common effects include paranoia, mood swings and mental illness
  • The comparatively low cost of legal highs against traditional drugs is a major appeal factor
  • Making legal highs illegal would not solve the problem
  • 63% said legal highs were too easy to get hold of.

The charity recognises that shops and online businesses selling legal highs are breaking no laws, but it is urging them to think seriously about the consequences of their actions and the harm they are doing.

Claire Windebank, Framework’s Operations Manager for Young People, explained: “These substances are currently sold legally in some shops and on line under a range of guises, including as plant foods, herbal incenses and even bath salts. As all of these substances are not officially intended for human consumption no laws are being broken – but lives are being blighted.

“It is patently obvious what the young people who buy this stuff are going to do with it – they’re going to smoke it or ingest it. What these retailers may not be aware of, however, is the appalling impact their modest profits can have on vulnerable young people. It is utterly heart-breaking to see a young person who had made such terrific progress with us to come so spectacularly off the rails after developing a habit for legal highs. We try our best as an organisation to educate and inform but we can’t get on top of this problem without the support of retailers, some of whom we know are regularly breaking trading laws by selling and delivering substances after hours via mobile phone and by allowing customers to accumulate debts.

“It’s easy to point the finger of blame for this problem at the young people who buy this stuff, but I sincerely believe the people who are truly to blame are the suppliers themselves.”

Sam, 24, who lives with Framework in Lincoln, explained his experience of legal highs. He said: “I saw someone I used to know go from being very confident an outgoing person to just a shut-away who won’t leave the house. That was just from [taking] legal highs over a period of two months. He was really outgoing, always ready to have a laugh but now he never leaves the house. That was from taking MCAT, which has now been made illegal.”

Sam was one of several young people surveyed who claimed that so-called “legal highs” were now far more potent than their illegal equivalents. He said: “With some of the legal smokes [similar to cannabis] I had taken I just couldn’t tell what was going on. I just wanted to get out. I felt paranoid but with everything illegal I had taken before I had never felt like that before.”

*101 people under the age of 30 completed this survey. 73 per cent of them were under the age of 25. The above figures related only to those 25 and under who fall into the official “young persons” category.

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