Growing concerns about legal highs in Northamptonshire have sparked the first major conference of its kind in the country.
Local organisations frustrated at the lack of joint action to tackle the growing problem of legal highs, have joined forces to bring big-hitters in the field to Northamptonshire.
Although there is lots of research and work going on around the UK, this is the first time that policy-makers have all been brought together to share their ideas.
Kettering charity Solve It is supporting the “Looking Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg” conference alongside London-based Angelus Foundation. It is being organised by CJS Event Solutions which is also based in Kettering.
Legal high is a term used to describe new psychoactive substances, drugs that mimic illegal substances that are available to buy freely online and in “head” shops.
They are manufactured in factories, usually abroad, and are untested. They are not allowed to be marketed as fit for human consumption but users take them anyway to recreate the mind-altering feelings gained by other illegal substances including cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin.
One group of the drugs, containing the tryptamine group of chemicals was banned earlier this month and reclassified as class A after it was linked to a string of deaths.
Organiser Kevin Shapland, chairman of Solve It and a former police officer, said new psychoactive substances are so dangerous because no-one knows exactly what chemicals are involved.
He said: “Pharmaceutical drugs have gone through years and years of testing and research but these substances could contain anything at all.
“No-one has a clue what’s in them. Children can access these types of substances easily online.
“They can pay for them with their parents’ cards and often their parents think its fine because they are described as legal.
“They can be sold legally, but it is illegal to market them as fit for human consumption.
“The law-making and enforcement is up to the Government and police. We concentrate on education. We believe people should be able to make informed choices about the chemicals they put in their body.
“There are three to four hundred different campaigns going on around the country centred around new psychoactive substances.
“If we had one campaign then it would be a lot more effective and a better use of resources, and that’s the idea of this conference.”
People attending the conference, which takes place at the Park Inn Radisson in Northampton, represent the health services, police, Crown Prosecution Service, Prison Service, social services, the National Crime Agency and a range of other bodies.
Speakers include Maryon Stewart of the Angelus Foundation who lost her daughter Hester after she took the then-legal high GBL in 2009.
Ian Goldsborough of the Metropolitan Police drugs directorate and Dr Jack Leach of the Royal College of General Practitioners will also speak.
Crucially, there will be a report produced after the day’s proceedings that will bring together all the topics covered.
Kevin added: “We’re going to do a full report post-conference that will go to all the political leaders.”
He believes that education about new psychoactive substances should start in primary schools, at about the age of eight.
“After all, children can have access to these drugs online,” he said. “You wouldn’t think twice about telling your children about stranger danger and I think this is just as important.”
Northants Police crime commissioner Adam Simmonds: “We are delighted to support this extremely worthwhile conference which is designed to tackle the growing issue of legal highs.
“These substances are not simply harmless fun, they are highly dangerous.
“People need to be in full possession of the facts and this conference will help get those facts out there.”
The facts about legal highs
Legal highs have largely replaced volatile substances such as glue, solvents and aerosols, as the “legal” drug of choice for teenagers and young adults.
They use ingredients often found in plant food that can be incredibly harmful to humans. They replace the highs encountered when taking illegal drugs including heroin, cocaine and cannabis.
They are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act because there is not enough research about them on which to base a decision about them.
However, more and more “legal highs” are being researched to see what the dangers are and if they should be made illegal.
They cannot be sold for human consumption so they are often sold as bath salts or plant food to get round the law.