POLICE officers from the Capital have led the charge on banning five so-called legal highs known to cause “aggressive and bizarre” behaviour.
A 12-month temporary ban has been slapped on the use of five methylphenidate-based substances, with anyone making or supplying the drugs facing up to 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine. Possession is not an offence although police will be able to confiscate the drug.
One substance, ethylphenidate – marketed as Gogaine or Burst – has caused particular problems in Edinburgh, with NHS chiefs reporting that it was the most common substance used by people admitted to hospital. Four related compounds have also been made illegal.
Six users died in the city between January and October last year, according to a council report, and residents in areas such as the Southside and Leith said communal stairs have been littered with needles as users inject the stimulants known as New Psychoactive Substances.
Evidence was given to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs by Sergeant Neil Wilson and Superintendent Matt Richards, who recommended the ban.
Sgt Wilson said: “Last April we began to see a rise in discarded needles and this began to tally up with a rise in aggressive and bizarre behaviour in people we had identified as users. A really concerning picture began to emerge.
“We began to notice people were beginning to present with terrible abscesses and sores on their bodies. Some people were injecting up to 30 times a day.”
Users injecting the drug are at risk of HIV and hepatitis C through sharing needles, as well as bacterial infections.
Sgt Wilson said legal highs were difficult to regulate and Police Scotland are prepared to tackle other substances which might appear to fill the gap.
The ban was described as a “significant step forward” by Chief Superintendent Mark Williams, divisional commander in Edinburgh.
He said: “Products such as Burst and Blue Stuff, which contain the banned compound, have been implicated in deaths, suicides, violent and bizarre behaviour and are also connected to a significant rise in infections amongst the injecting population.
“My officers will continue to monitor the situation closely and I would reiterate that so-called legal highs are not safe products, they are untested, unregulated and are inherently dangerous.”
NHS chiefs called on shops to stop selling the chemicals last month to curb the surge in hospital admissions, as users now account for 20 per cent of admissions to the poisons unit at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
Professor Alison McCallum, director of public health and health policy at NHS Lothian, said: “These products have serious consequences and are causing a great deal of harm.
“I hope that this temporary ban will provide some respite for those affected and enable our staff and partner agencies to provide help and support.”