Regular readers of the Journal and Chronicle will know that I strongly oppose New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) otherwise known as Legal Highs.
Prior to being elected as Police & Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, I asked the Home Secretary to take action on banning such products after a number of students in our region were badly affected after taking them.
I have contacted the Home Secretary again this month and urged her to deliver on her Government’s policy to tackle these NPS and take strong action against those who sell them.
Let’s be absolutely clear there is nothing good about these products.
The reason for changing their name to New Psychoactive Substances from Legal Highs is because the old name suggests there is nothing unlawful about them and they are fun.
They have similar effects to illegal drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy but are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act as, rather contrary to what seems clear, there has apparently not been enough research about them on which to base a decision.
They appear though to be capable of some terrible side-effects, worse than many controlled drugs. That has been our sad experience locally.
They are sold as bath salts or plant food to get around the law – it’s this that needs to stop.
We know that they are not bath salts and we know exactly why they have been made - to sell for a big profit, to young people keen on a new experience and perhaps less alert to risk than some older people.
My fellow PCCs say they are affecting communities across the country and can have devastating effects on families.
Lord Jeremy Beecham recently brought it home to me how families are being taken to breaking point when a son or daughter becomes addicted to such products.
One of his constituents recently contacted him and he wants to see how partners can work together to tackle this problem.
I know Trading Standards departments across the Northumbria Force area are working in partnership with the police to try and tackle this problem, but without legislation from the Home Office securing a conviction is difficult.
Those who produce these products get around the law by changing the ingredients slightly so the precise product they are marketing is outside any ban, at least for a short time until the regulations catch up. And so the cat and mouse game goes on.
It is important that local police and councils do work together, by whatever means they can, to undermine the sellers.
Reading the notes of a mother who talked to Lord Beecham really brings home how devastating the effects of NPS are and I have sent the Home Secretary the witness statement so she can read it for herself.
Now she must do all she can to prevent another family going through this heartache and pain.
- Vera Baird is the Police & Crime Commissioner for Northumbria