Government launches ‘legal high’ review

The government is to review the laws relating to new psychoactive substances, the Home Office has announced, in a bid to ‘clamp down on the trade in potentially fatally drugs’.

The review will have input from ‘law enforcement, science, health and academia’ and study international and other evidence, with findings to be presented in the spring. It will then ‘make a clear recommendation for an effective and sustainable UK-wide legislative response’ to the new drugs, with options including ‘the expansion of legislation to ensure police and law enforcement agencies have better tailored powers’.

‘The coalition government is determined to clamp down on the reckless trade in so-called “legal highs”, which has tragically already claimed the lives of far too many young people in our country,’ said crime prevention minister Norman Baker. ‘Despite being marketed as legal alternatives to banned drugs, users cannot be sure of what they contain and the impact they will have on their health. Nor can they even be sure that they are legal. Our review will consider how current legislation can be better tailored to enable the police and law enforcement officers to combat this dangerous trade and ensure those involved in breaking the law are brought to justice.’

DrugScope said it ‘cautiously’ welcomed the review but added that legislation alone was not sufficient to address the problem. ‘This is an attempt by the Home Office to bolster current enforcement efforts and to see what other legislative options could be brought to bear on this new and complex drug situation,’ said outgoing chief executive Martin Barnes. ‘It is vital that education and information efforts are significantly enhanced in order to make the public – especially young people – more aware of the risks posed by experimenting with substances of unknown content and origin. These substances are not labelled ‘research chemicals’ by sellers for nothing.’

The Home Office has also announced that two groups of substances under a temporary banning order – NBOMe and Benzofuran compounds – will become class A and B drugs respectively, and has issued guidance to local authorities on the options available for addressing the issue of ‘head shops’ selling new psychoactive drugs.

Meanwhile, a report from the Home Affairs Committee has also called for improved education on new psychoactive substances in schools and colleges and states that the police and other law enforcement bodies have ‘failed to understand’ the impact of the new drugs. It wants to see legislation that shifts ‘the evidential responsibility’ of proving the safety of a substance onto the seller and also recommends that medical practices begin anonymous data collection to establish how many patients have become addicted to prescription drugs.

‘We are facing an epidemic of psychoactive substances in the UK with deaths increasing by 79 per cent in the last year,’ said committee chair Keith Vaz. ‘New versions of these “legal highs” are being produced at the rate of at least one a week, yet it has taken the government a year to produce five pages of guidance on the use of alternative legislation.’

Guidance for local authorities on taking action against head shops selling new psychoactive substances at

Drugs: new psychoactive substances and prescription drugs at

See here for a profile of new psychoactive drugs expert Dr John Ramsey

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