Police struggle to deal with ‘legal highs’ impact

Police Scotland has warned of an 'overwhelming' problem from sale of substances. Picture: Greg Macvean
Police Scotland has warned of an 'overwhelming' problem from sale of substances. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Police have warned the abuse of legal highs is “burdening already stretched resources” and causing a major public health risk.

This impacts on policing on a daily basis, placing officers in danger

Neil Wilson

In a submission to a consultation being carried out by the home affairs select committee, Police Scotland said the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) is putting officers in “challenging and dangerous situations”. A report to be published today by the committee concludes that attempts to legislate against the problem are rushed and confused.

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.

Sergeant Neil Wilson, of Police Scotland’s Edinburgh division, a former research chemist, said: “The impact of the NPS situation on Edinburgh’s communities cannot be underestimated.

“Needle discards present a real health risk, antisocial behaviour in the vicinity of head shops is entrenched and overt injecting is often witnessed by members of the public. Individuals under the influence are generally unaware of their actions and frequently place themselves in potentially harmful situations such as walking in heavy traffic and behaving in an irrational and chaotic manner.”

He added: “NPS impacts on policing on a daily basis, burdening already stretched resources and often placing officers in challenging and dangerous situations. It also results in users, who wouldn’t normally exhibit violent tendencies or commit crime, finding themselves in police custody as a result of their actions whilst under the influence.”

The home affairs committee said it had a number of “serious concerns” about legislation designed to tackle the “overwhelming” problem of NPS, which would apply to Scotland as well as England and Wales.

The committee said it was concerned about the sale of the substances moving online as well as being imported via couriers.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, said: “Britain uses more psychoactive substances than any other country in Europe and is at risk of being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of this problem. Legislating on this issue is the right thing to do; however doing so at speed without any consultation may be counterproductive.”