The city of Newcastle is taking new steps to tackle the problem of “legal highs.” The city’s police have set up a new task force dedicated to cracking down on this issue.
Legal highs are substances sold legally, but which can be ingested to produce effects similar to those of illegal drugs. Some of these substances produce effects similar to ecstasy or cocaine. Some are available for purposes other than narcotic use, while others are created with the specific intention of mimicking illegal drugs while being sufficiently different in chemical structure to escape the law. Even the latter group, however, are usually sold as non-narcotic substances such as plant feed. Selling these substances specifically for human consumption would still be illegal even though they are not among the substances specifically outlawed in the UK, but labelling them as other kinds of chemical product bypasses this law.
Police officers in Newcastle reportedly dealt with almost a hundred incidents involving legal highs in a two month period. Between 15th November and 16th January, the city’s police responded to 98 such incidents. Some of the individuals involved in these incidents were as young as 14. Legal highs can be dangerous, and in a number of the incidents to which Newcastle’s police individuals have been experiencing potentially life-threatening side-effects.
According to Northumbria Police, use of legal highs in Newcastle has risen dramatically over the past six months. The force said that there had been an “alarming” rate of increase in incidents involving these substances in recent months, particularly in the west of the city.
According to Supt Richard Jackson, “it’s almost every day now that officers are having to deal with the consequences of someone who has taken legal highs.”
He went on to say that “Residents, especially in the west end and the city centre are becoming extremely concerned about the impact legal highs are having on their communities and enough is enough.”
Newcastle is not the first city to take steps to crack down on the use of legal highs. In late 2014, Sheffield cracked down on the use of such substances after experiencing a similarly rapid rise in the number of incidents police were dealing with. Police forces in parts of Scotland and in Hertfordshire have also previously introduced dedicated task forces, similar to that which has now been set up in Newcastle.
The new task force will comprise roughly a dozen police officers. They will be supported by staff from a number of other organisations and agencies, including Newcastle City Council and local health services.