SCOTS police officers have played a key role in implementing a ban on five so-called legal highs known to cause “aggressive and bizarre” behaviour.
Police officers Sergeant Neil Wilson and Superintendent Matt Richards have given evidence to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) on how ethylphenidate – marketed as Gogaine or Burst – has caused particular problems in Edinburgh, with NHS leaders reporting it was the most common substance among users seeking hospital treatment.
At at meeting at the ACMD crime prevention minister Lynne Featherstone accepted a recommendation for a 12-month temporary ban on use of methylphenidate-based substances, including ethylphenidate which is used as an alternative to cocaine.
Four related compounds have also been made illegal to stop users switching.
Six users died in Edinburgh between January and October last year, according to a council report, and residents in areas such as the Southside and Leith, said communal stairs have been littered with needles as users inject the stimulants – known as new psychoactive substances (NPS).
Sgt Wilson said: “Last April we began to see a rise in discarded needles and this began to tally up with a rise in aggressive and bizarre behaviour in people we had identified as users.
“A really concerning picture began to emerge.
“We began to notice people were beginning to present with terrible abscesses and sores on their bodies. Some people were injecting up to 30 times a day.” Users injecting the drug are at risk of HIV and hepatitis C through sharing needles, as well as bacterial infections.
Sgt Wilson said legal highs were difficult to regulate and Police Scotland is prepared to tackle other substances which might appear to fill the gap.
The ban was described as a “significant step forward” by Chief Superintendent Mark Williams, divisional commander in Edinburgh.
He said: “Products such as Burst and Blue Stuff, which contain the banned compound, have been implicated in deaths, suicides, violent and bizarre behaviour and are also connected to a significant rise in infections amongst the injecting population.
“My officers will continue to monitor the situation closely and I would reiterate that so-called legal highs are not safe products, they are untested, unregulated and are inherently dangerous.”
NHS chiefs called on shops to stop selling the chemicals last month to curb the surge in hospital visits, as users now account for 20 per cent of admissions to the poisons unit at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
Professor Alison McCallum, director of public health and health policy at NHS Lothian, said: “These products have serious consequences and are causing a great deal of harm to people. Their use and easy availability has been worrying and clinical colleagues in hospitals and in our GP surgeries are seeing an alarming increase in physical and mental health problems.
“In NHS Lothian, more than 100 people have developed serious soft tissue infections thought to be related to the practice of injecting ‘legal-highs’ and serious symptoms such as mental and behavioural problems including delusions, hallucinations, bizarre and aggressive behaviour, occur frequently.”
Anyone making or supplying the chemicals faces up to 14 years in prison. Possession is not an offence although police will be able to confiscate the drug.
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