There has been a dramatic year-on-year rise in incidents involving legal highs, according to police figures obtained by the BBC through freedom of information requests.
The figures detail incidents reported by 23 of the the 39 police forces in England, from antisocial behaviour through to criminal activity, in which various names of legal highs were mentioned, such as ‘Spice’ and ‘Clockwork Orange’. The figures show that since 2011, when there were 111 incidents reported, numbers have risen steeply and consistently, with 6023 incidents reported in 2015, representing a 54 fold increase overall.
The rise corresponds with increased use of legal highs, which have grown rapidly in popularity in recent years, and illustrates the challenges that these substances present to police forces, as usage continues to rise. Some forces have seen incidents involving legal highs more than double in the at two years alone, with no effective measures having been taken to curb use.
The Government has vowed to take action against legal highs, with Home Office Minister Karen Bradley stating “Psychoactive substances shatter lives and we owe it to all those who have lost loved ones to do everything we can to eradicate this abhorrent trade.”
Prisons have also seen continued increases in the use of these substances among their populations, which has led to a rise in deaths links to to them from 19 between 2012 and 2014, to 39 between 2013 and 2015.
While the Government hopes that the upcoming Psychoactive Substances Act, now scheduled to come into effect on 26th May, will help to address legal high use, there are doubts that the Act will produce a reduction in usage rates. On the new law, Bradley has said “This Act will bring to an end the open sale on our high streets of these potentially harmful drugs and deliver new powers for law enforcement to tackle this issue at every level in communities, at our borders, on UK websites and in our prisons.”
Many predict the sale of these substances will move from high street headshops to online websites, which can be based in other countries to avoid prosecution, and to street dealers. The absence of focus on education and treatment for substance abuse in the new Act has also raised concerns among charities, who have noted that such provisions are essential if usage rates are going to be reversed. It has also been noted that the incentives for prison populations to continue to use
Words by Henry Fisher