Scientists create database to tackle dangerous legal highs

Forensic scientists are working with Scotlands A&E departments to help create a database of dangerous legal highs
Forensic scientists are working with Scotlands A&E departments to help create a database of dangerous legal highs
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Forensic scientists are working with Scotland’s A&E departments to help create a database of dangerous “legal highs”.

Doctors struggling to deal with potentially deadly new psychoactive substances (NPS) have begun collecting the pills when patients are at casualty. The drugs are then being analysed by the Scottish Police Authority’s forensic services in the hope of creating an archive of legal highs, which will provide a reference point for medical professionals and those working in police forensics.

Tom Nelson, director of forensic services at the SPA, said NPS now accounted for around 10 per cent of all drugs being analysed, up from just 1 per cent a few years ago.

READ MORE: Hundreds of patients attending A&E after taking legal highs

“NPS is something we’re keen to get involved in from a police perspective,” he said. “We’re very keen to understand the impact the drugs are having on the individual as well. We’re analysing thousands of drugs every year. Over the last three or four years we’ve noticed a significant increase in the percentage of those drugs which are NPS.

“Because they are new and only seem to stay around for a short period of time, you almost have to stay ahead of the game in relation to identifying the drugs.”

Last year Police Scotland said that the abuse of legal highs was “burdening already stretched resources” and causing a major public health risk.

NPS, often referred to as legal highs, are sold in “head shops” alongside other drug paraphernalia and are often marketed as plant food or bath salts because they cannot be sold for human consumption.

Earlier this month Scottish charities warned large quantities of legal highs are being stockpiled before a new law prohibiting the sale of the drugs comes into effect.

The UK-wide Psychoactive Substances Act was expected to be implemented this month, but has been delayed.It will make it an offence to supply any psychoactive substance – except nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and medical products – but possession will be legal.

Figures released in 2014 showed NPS were involved in 113 drug-related deaths in Scotland, up from 47 in 2012.