‘Legal highs are considered as dangerous as illegal drugs’

Legal highs come in a range of types and packaging.
Legal highs come in a range of types and packaging.
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A rising number of youngsters are being admitted to hospital after taking ‘deadly cocktails of toxic chemicals’, it was today warned.

Paramedics are being forced to treat more and more psychotic youths suffering from serious complications after taking uncontrolled legal highs.

Blackpool Victoria Hospital

Blackpool Victoria Hospital

Police, council, ambulance service and the hospital trust all said the problem is getting bigger – and have voiced their concerns.

Police and council officers are now visiting schools across the Fylde coast in a bid to combat the problem, which has left under-pressure emergency services under even more strain.

It is believed that, although shops in Blackpool are banned from selling the drugs, often labelled ‘unfit for human consumption’, teenagers are buying them online or through their friends.

The mind-altering substances, which are usually made from dried plants and herbs laced with chemicals, are available from some websites for as little as £4.

Side-effects can range from psychosis, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, and unpredictable, aggressive behaviour.

Some 400 people in the UK died after taking legal highs last year, compared to just four in 2009.

And consultant Simon Tucker, who works in A&E at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, said a ‘significant’ number of those admitted to hospital suffered from ‘serious’ complications.

Mr Tucker warned: “These legal highs are very dangerous. They should be considered as dangerous as any drug currently listed as illegal.”

Hospital staff are now working alongside the National Poisons Information Service to learn more about the drugs, and Mr Tucker said provisional feedback was concerning.

“It shows a wide variety of chemicals with little standardisation, and some quite alarming results regarding chemical constituents,” he said.

The North West Ambulance Service said 999 staff have been taking an increasing number of calls, and said paramedics were finding it hard to treat patients.

A spokesman said: “These particular substances are not designed for human consumption and people should not be fooled into thinking they are safe because of their nickname.

“It can be extremely difficult to know how to treat patients who have taken legal highs as there is no way of knowing what ingredients have gone into them or what effect they will have on each individual.

“The trust has also noticed patients becoming aggressive after taking these substances and the effects of taking legal highs are extremely worrying as symptoms are sporadic and unpredictable.

“We have seen such a wide range of people falling victim to these substances, from youngsters to hardened drug users, as they are found to be easily accessible and relatively cheap to buy.

“However, as we have seen first-hand, the effects of these substances can be detrimental.”

No official figures have been released because many patients appear to initially be under the influence of drink.

Blackpool Council recently banned shops in the resort from selling the drugs, which are also known as new psychoactive substances, but Coun Amy Cross, the person responsible for reducing the resort’s health inequalities, said people were still getting hold of them.

Test purchases found no shops in the town were still selling legal highs, but town hall officials believe youngsters are buying them off the internet or from their friends instead.

Coun Cross said: “These substances can contain a deadly cocktail of toxic chemicals that can play havoc with people’s emotions, cause confusion, and put them at serious risk of overdosing, or potentially falling into a coma.

“Even more worrying is that the long term effects of taking these drugs are completely unknown.”

Police and council officers are now working with schoolchildren to warn them of the dangers.

“Calling them legal highs gives off the idea that because these substances are legal that makes them safe,” Coun Cross added. “That is absolutely not the case and some can be just as bad, if not worse, than illegal drugs.”

A spokeswoman for Lancashire Police added: “Just because a substance is sold in a shop or on the internet as ‘legal’, it does not mean it is legal or safe, and sadly there are clever people out there making a lot of money by selling drugs under the misnomer ‘legal highs’ which may in fact pose a risk to people’s health.

“The reality is that many of these products either contain either controlled substances or uncontrolled substances who side-effects cannot be predicted.

“There is no age restriction of the sale of legal highs, but some local neighbourhood policing teams work with schools to try and educate pupils about the dangers of taking these substances and the harm they can cause.”