Leaders: Time to clamp down on legal highs

he number of deaths in Scotland involving so-called legal highs more than doubled last year, from 47 to 113. Picture: Greg MacVean
he number of deaths in Scotland involving so-called legal highs more than doubled last year, from 47 to 113. Picture: Greg MacVean
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AT THE headline level, Scotland looks to be making encouraging progress in curbing fatalities from drug abuse.

Latest figures from the National Records of Scotland show the number of drug-related deaths dropped by 9 per cent to 526, and that the number of drug deaths among the under-25s at 32 was the lowest since records began in 1996.

But closer inspection reveals a disturbing trend. The number of deaths in Scotland involving so-called legal highs where new psychoactive substances (NPS) were present more than doubled last year, from 47 to 113.

These “legal high” drugs are designed to mimic the effect of illegal drugs but are structurally different enough to avoid being classified as illegal substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act. It is a despicable – and all too frequently deadly – perversion of medical chemistry. Despite being labelled as “legal” these substances are not always safe to use and often contain controlled drugs making them illegal to possess.
This is a rapidly developing and expanding market, with the drugs marketed in a manner which enables them to bypass legislation. There is a general misconception in the public mind that these are a safe alternative. This could not be further from the truth. Many can cause significant health risks, especially when mixed with other drugs or alcohol. There is no control over the content of the drug. Around a fifth contain illegal substances and could result in criminal proceedings. And the targeting of these substances towards the young is especially pernicious.

In Scotland, misuse of mephedrone is the most common. There were 213 seizures of NPS (mephedrone and ketamine) by police forces in 2012-13. Clamping down on the manufacture of these substances is difficult. When the law catches up, the chemists and criminals move on to another almost copycat product. The despair and destruction of young lives remains the same. NPS can cause a range of physical and psychological symptoms (from kidney failure to psychosis) that are just as serious as the ones caused by other illicit drugs.

Community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham said yesterday the Scottish government is committed to doing everything it can to restrict access to NPS and to educate people about their dangers. Her concern was reinforced by Carole Kelly, chief executive of drugs information charity Crew 2000. She warned of the dangers of NPS because of price and lack of information. She said: “NPS can be cheaper than known illegal drugs and people who have previously used other drugs may not be aware of additional risks and consequences of use.” But is more “education about the dangers” really an adequate response? It is necessary, certainly, but hardly sufficient. The time of endless quibbling over framing a law has to stop. The rising death toll from NPS makes this imperative. It is possible. And it needs to be done.

Let’s welcome more to our shores

We may not have the best weather in the world. And our lifestyle habits may leave a little to be desired. But immigration to Scotland is still running at a high level. And it is because of our ability to attract immigrants that our overall population continues to grow.

Latest figures show that Scotland’s population has reached a new high of 5.33 million, but this is wholly due to high immigration – with the net intake last year hitting 10,000. The country’s birth rate continues to plunge, with the number of newborn babies falling by more than 2,000 last year, according to the National Records of Scotland.

A glass of Zywiec beer should be raised in salute to Poland: Poles are now the biggest nationality group living in Scotland, with almost 60,000 based here – twice as many as Indians, the next biggest group.

Poles have proved a popular and prized addition to Scotland’s workforce, particularly in the hotels and hospitality sector where they have become familiar figures. But the contribution of immigrants to Scotland’s economy is much wider. They have brought needed skills and a keen aptitude for work. This contribution is all the more valuable given Scotland’s demographics and the growing need, both in the private and public sectors, to provide assistance and support for the


However, the rate of net immigration is slowing. And while it would be encouraging to see a reversal in the decline of babies born to Scottish parents, we also need a continuation at least of the current rate of immigration and preferably an increase. Scotland is big enough, and her labour market expanding enough, to welcome more to our shores.