Call for legal highs testing service

Legal highs bought in Edinburgh shop Apothecary. Picture: Greg Macvean
Legal highs bought in Edinburgh shop Apothecary. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A DRAMATIC increase in the use of “legal highs” in the Capital has sparked calls for a pill-testing system to let people know what they’re taking.

Figures from city drugs advice group Crew 2000 showed one in three of those visiting its drop-in shop had taken legal highs.

And chief executive Carole Kelly said there had been a noticeable increase in the number of shops, including newsagents, selling the substances. She said: “Availability is increasing. In the last six months or so we have heard of quite a few new retailers coming into the marketplace and it has become quite easy for a younger age group to purchase them.”

In 2012/13, 280 people who had taken legal highs visited the Crew drop-in advice shop in Cockburn Street – 33 per cent of all those seeking help, up from 23 per cent the previous year. But Ms Kelly said that although they were described as “legal” some of the substances were very potent and could have very serious side effects.

She said: “People are playing Russian roulette. They may have tried something once and it didn’t affect them badly.

“But using what they believe is the same substance another time might lead to a different reaction – for instance, if they are in a really hot night club they are at risk of overheating.”

Crew would like to see Scotland follow the example of Wales in setting up a government-funded drug testing service that is open to the public. The Wedinos project, set up to tackle an increase in legal highs, collects and tests unknown substances and encourages users to report the effects they have experienced.

Information on what chemicals they contain is then fed back to users, along with information on associated health effects.Speaking in a debate in the Scottish Parliament on legal highs, Lothian Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said it used to be that when people took pills, legal or otherwise, in Edinburgh, they could hand one to Crew 2000, who would pass it to the police for testing, with information fed back via a notice in Crew’s window. But cuts meant the service had ended.

She suggested: “Perhaps universities in Edinburgh could set up a social enterprise to work together with Crew 2000 to allow drugs that are being taken on the streets to be safely handed over to the authorities for assessment. Posters could then be put in Crew’s windows, so that young people and others who are consuming legal highs are better informed about what they are taking and can make the choices that they want to make about the drugs that they consume.”

Last week, three 14-year-olds were rushed to hospital in Glasgow after smoking legal highs.

UK IS NOW LEGAL HIGH CAPITAL OF EUROPE

THE DANGER of so-called legal highs has been well documented in recent years, with City-based drugs charity Crew 2000 saying the prevalence of the dangerous substances, which are widely available over the counter in a series of outlets across Edinburgh, has doubled among those using its services in the last year alone.

And the drugs have proven hard to outlaw, as manufacturers can tweak their formula slightly as soon as a particular compound is made illegal.

The substances can be bought easily over the internet, as well as in “head shops” on high streets throughout Britain, such as Apothecary on Clerk Street.

A recent report said that the UK was the legal high capital of Europe, and that legal drugs had overtaken classified drugs for the first time.