Organisations frustrated at a lack of collaborative action in tackling the growing problem of legal highs have joined forces to bring big-hitters in the field to Northamptonshire.
Although there is a lot of research and work going on around the UK, this is the first time that policy-makers have all been brought together to share their ideas.
Northamptonshire charity, Solve It, is supporting the ‘Looking Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg’ conference on Thursday, June 26 at the Park Inn Radisson, alongside the London-based Angelus Foundation.
‘Legal high’ is a term used to describe new psychoactive substances; drugs that mimic illegal substances that are available to buy freely online and in ‘head’ shops.
They are manufactured in factories, usually abroad, and are untested. They are not allowed to be marketed as fit for human consumption, but users take them anyway to recreate the mind-altering feelings gained by other illegal substances, including cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin.
One group of the drugs, containing the tryptamine group of chemicals, was banned earlier this month and reclassified as class A after it was linked to a string of deaths.
Organiser Kevin Shapland, chairman of Solve It and a former police officer, said new psychoactive substances were so dangerous because no-one knew exactly what chemicals were involved.
“Pharmaceutical drugs have gone through years and years of testing and research but these substances could contain anything at all. No-one has a clue what’s in them.
“Children can access these types of substances easily online. They can pay for them with their parents’ cards and often their parents think its fine because they are described as legal.
“They can be sold legally, but it is illegal to market them as fit for human consumption.
“The law-making and enforcement is up to the government and police. We concentrate on education. We believe people should be able to make informed choices about the chemicals they put in their body. There are different campaigns going on around the country centred around new psychoactive substances. If we had one campaign then if would be a lot more effective and that’s the idea of this conference.”
People attending the conference, which takes place at the Park Inn Radisson in Northampton, represent the health services, police, Crown Prosecution Service, Prison Service, social services, the National Crime Agency and a range of other bodies. Speakers include Maryon Stewart of the Angelus Foundation who lost her daughter, Hester, after she took the then-legal high, GBL, in 2009. Ian Goldsborough of the Metropolitan Police drugs directorate and Dr Jack Leach, of the Royal College of General Practitioners, will also speak. Crucially, there will be a report produced after the day’s proceedings that will bring together all the topics covered. Kevin Shapland said: “We’re going to do a full report post-conference that will go to all the political leaders.” He believes that education about new psychoactive substances should start in primary schools, at about the age of eight.