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MPs call for crackdown on legal highs in line with Daily Echo Say No To Legal Highs campaign
AN URGENT crackdown on so-called “legal highs” will be demanded by a committee of MPs today, in the wake of a spate of tragedies in Hampshire.
Ministers are warned that the country is in the grip of an “epidemic”, which they say police ignorance and outdated legislation is failing to tackle effectively.
The number of people who have died after taking psychoactive substances has soared by 79 per cent – to 52 – in the last year, the Home Affairs Select Committee warns.
Such substances have claimed the lives of several young people in Hampshire and left others seriously ill.
The victims include Adam Hunt, 18, from Southampton, who died in hospital after consuming alpha methyltryptamine (AMT) and etizolam.
Trainee doctor Doug Ferguson, 19, of Chandler’s Ford, died after taking legal highs last year.
The substances mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as Ecstasy and cocaine but are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
In the wake of the deaths of Adam an Doug, the Daily Echo launched its Say No to Legal Highs campaign calling for tougher laws and licensing rules for selling the drugs.
Now the committee’s report, published today, has demanded that police forces collect proper data on the “use and effect” of legal highs – warning they have “failed to understand” the problem.
It also calls for new legislation to shift responsibility for proving new substances are safe onto the seller – a model adopted in New Zealand - and mobile testing units at festivals, to clear out harmful or illegal substances quickly.
Better education on psychoactive substances in schools and colleges, it also srongly recommended.
Keith Vaz, the committee’s Labour chairman, said: “We are facing an epidemic of psychoactive substances in the UK, with deaths increasing by 79 per cent in the last year.
“New versions of these ‘legal highs’ are being produced at the rate of at least one a week – yet it has taking the Government a year to produce five pages of guidance on the use of alternative legislation. This slow response to the crisis may have led to more deaths. Those who sell these killer substances need to be held responsible.”
Legal highs can be found in petrol stations, takeaways, tattoo parlours, newsagents, tobacconists, car boot sales, sex shops, gift shops, market stalls and pet shops, the inquiry was told.
The report is likely to be welcomed by Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Hayes and Southampton Itchen MP John Denham, who have both called for action against shopkeepers selling legal highs.
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