Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Peter Simmonds had harsh words for drug regulators during a speech made at a legal highs conference in London yesterday (June 26). The conference, co-sponsored by the Angelus Foundation and the Solve It charity, was organised to highlight the dangers of legal highs in the UK. Representatives from a number of police agencies and government offices were present.
According to the PCC, the rise of new psychoactive substances (legal highs) is something that should be of concern to everyone. He noted that use of the substances contributed to 68 deaths in 2012; that does not even account for the hundreds of emergency hospital visits that did not result in death. Simmonds also noted the concerns of his Chief Constable in relation to legal highs.
“Legal highs worry me as Police and Crime Commissioner,” he said. “I know they concern my Chief Constable, and they should give sufficient cause for concern both in our wider society and for our national government.”
The PCC’s most harsh words were reserved for regulators whom he accused of legitimising the use of legal highs by taking too long to come up with comprehensive regulations. Every day that goes by without government action is another day head shops are free to sell new psychoactive substances without barriers. As long as their products are packaged as plant food, there is little that can be done under the current regulatory environment.
Simmonds says there are three things that need to be done in order to tackle the growing problem of legal highs:
- National Policy – A clear national policy needs to be established in order to provide a framework that local governments and police agencies can work with. Until a national policy is established, local regulations will be fragmented at best.
- Flexibility – A flexible and nimble legislative framework for dealing with legal highs needs to be developed so that those working on the problem can adapt strategies to the ever-changing environment. A rigid framework will prove unworkable soon after it is adopted.
- Cooperation – More cooperation is needed between regulators, police agencies, schools, hospitals, rehab providers, and charities as Solve It. Simmonds says it will not be possible to make a significant impact without all stakeholders being adequately involved.
There is no doubt that Mr Simmonds believes passionately in the need to address the problem of legal highs. We could not agree more. The easy availability and low price of these drugs is making them more attractive every day. Unfortunately, those who use them do not understand just how dangerous these can be. They tend to operate under the philosophy that legal highs must be harmless if they are being sold in head shops.
One of the other problems associated with legal highs is that younger users fail to realise the drugs can be every bit as addictive as things such as heroin and cocaine. Any psychoactive substance, used in large quantities and over a long period, substantially affects normal brain function to create addiction.
Truth be told, there is no such thing as a ‘safe drug’ without negative consequences. Legal highs are no different from other so-called ‘low risk’ drugs like alcohol and cannabis. Addiction is a very real possibility that gradually comes upon users without them knowing what is happening. And unfortunately, legal high addictions are increasing in number every month.
Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. However, if PCC Adam Simmonds has his way, we may finally be on the verge of taking some real action to address the legal highs issue.