THEY are the deadly drugs which have already claimed the lives of young people in Hampshire.

But so-called “legal highs” could soon be on the shelves of even more of the county’s shops.

Last night, leading figures supporting the Daily Echo’s “Say No to Legal Highs” campaign blasted controversial plans paving the way for the toxic drugs to be sold in specially licensed high street stores as “ludicrous”

– in the wake of high-profile attempts to ban them.

Liberal Democrat Home Office Minister Norman Baker proposes licensing the so-called “head shops”

to sell the drugs to over-18s.

Regulations would be similar to those imposed on sex shops, with vendors tightly controlled by trading standards departments, forced to have blacked-out windows and children banned from entering.

The drugs, which mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as heroin and ecstasy, have already killed people in Hampshire and left others severely ill.

Victims include Adam Hunt, 18, of Southampton, who died in hospital after consuming alpha methyltrptamine (AMT), and trainee doctor Doug Ferguson, 19, of Chandler’s Ford, who died after taking legal highs in 2012.

Southampton Itchen MP John Denham slammed the plans as “barmy”.

He said they flew in the face of the Daily Echo campaign and added: “Legal highs are dangerous and this completely muddies the message of all the work we are trying to do to warn people.

“Sex shops are licensed because they cause offence but they have never killed anyone.”

He said that the Government should focus its efforts on imposing laws to hold sellers to account when customers fall ill after consuming drugs bought at their stores.

He added: “If you bought meat from the butcher and got Ecoli that butcher would be prosecuted.

“There needs to be a proper system of holding people criminally liable if harm comes to a customer.”

Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead warned that many include toxic ingredients often sold under false pretences.

He said: “Putting substances that casue a large amount of harm behind a closed door won’t solve the harm they cause.

“It won’t work and needs more thought.”

Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Simon Hayes also branded the substances a “serious problem” and added: “The Government and trading standards use every possible legal process to prohibit the sale of these products and to shut these shops down.

“I am gravely concerned that further delays in deciding how to deal with the problem will result in more serious incidents or deaths.”

Mr Baker’s call comes in the wake of a Government review into drug classification aimed at reassessing the hundreds of new drugs flooding the market.

He says that tightly licensing head shops is a way of controlling them and will protect vulnerable youngsters.

He says that his concerns about the drugs have “escalated” and added: “Rather than giving the impression that what they’re selling is harmless, we need to consider whether or not there are messages and ways of dealing with those.”

He added: “We should maybe look at licensing them like sex shops with blacked-out windows and not allowing under-18s in.”

The Daily Echo campaign calls for tougher laws, vendors and sellers to be held to account and tighter controls to stop vulnerable youngsters from being able to buy the products over the counter.