Powers to tackle legal highs following 73 deaths

Helen Henderson: Victim of the legal-high craze. Picture: Facebook
Helen Henderson: Victim of the legal-high craze. Picture: Facebook
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POWERS to restrict the sale of so-called legal highs are to be considered by experts appointed by the Scottish Government.

The group will consider the devolved and reserved powers currently available to authorities such as Police Scotland, trading standards and the Scottish Government.

MSPs pledged to get tough on legal highs earlier this year after figures showed a large rise in associated hospital admissions.

In April, 19-year-old Helen Henderson from Renfrew became the latest person to die after taking the stimulant mephedrone, or “MCAT”.

Previously one of the growing number of legal highs, MCAT was made a class-B drug in 2010 after being linked to a number of deaths.

Announcing the formation of the working group yesterday, community minister Roseanna Cunningham said: “Drugs legislation and the legality of new psychoactive substances (NPS), or legal highs as they are known, are the responsibility of Westminster.

“We in Scotland do not have the power to ban them, but we are absolutely determined to do all that we can to restrict access to them, and educate people about the inherent dangers to minimise any further loss of life.”

Between 2009 and 2012, legal highs were implicated in 73 deaths in Scotland. In 14 of the cases, it was the only substance taken prior to death.

Ms Cunningham added: “The move towards establishing the group – as we approach the festival season – is particularly timely. Too many Scots have already lost their lives after using these drugs and I want to send out a clear message that because they may be legal, that does not mean they are safe or that they won’t have devastating or indeed fatal consequences.”

In June last year, the UK government placed banning orders on four types of the legal high, after they were linked to deaths.

The Scottish Government said a further announcement would be made in due course about the membership of the expert group. They will contribute to the Scottish Government’s response to the Home Office review of NPS legislation, which is expected to be published later this year.

Tory MSP Alex Johnstone said: “This is a welcome announcement, which comes on the back of sustained pressure by the Scottish Conservatives and concerned communities across Scotland to take action on this issue.

“The Scottish Government cannot operate in isolation on this matter, and partnership working with Westminster is essential.”