News story

No let-up in drive to combat 'legal highs'

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Coalition government takes range of action to respond to challenges of new psychoactive substances.

Two groups of dangerous ‘legal highs’ were today (Wednesday 11 March) banned by the Coalition Government.

The stimulant compound drug 4,4’-DMAR, which is linked to the deaths of more than 20 people in the UK, mainly Northern Ireland, and the synthetic opioid MT-45, have both been outlawed as Class A substances.

It is part of a concerted range of action taken by the government to respond to the challenges caused by new psychoactive substances (NPS) – known as ‘legal highs’.

General ban

This action includes developing proposals for a general ban on NPS following a recommendation by an expert panel commissioned by the Home Office.

Today’s bans come into force on the same day as a letter was sent by the Crime Prevention Minister to summer festival organisers warning them of the risks posed by so-called ‘legal highs’ and new guidance was published for local authorities and the police on tackling NPS.

Crime Prevention Minister Lynne Featherstone said:

The Coalition Government has taken the lead in tackling new psychoactive substances, or so-called ‘legal highs’, both in this country and internationally.

We created the Forensic Early Warning System to identify substances previously unseen in the UK and we have banned more than 500 new drugs, including those controlled today.

We are also developing proposals for a general ban on the supply of ‘legal highs’ across the UK. This would give law enforcement greater powers to tackle the NPS trade as a whole, instead of a substance-by-substance approach.

I will be working right up until the dissolution of Parliament to ensure we have done as much as we possibly can to pave the way for a general ban. This will mean the next government can act quickly to clamp down on this reckless trade.

The Coalition Government has also been taking international action to respond to the threat of ‘legal highs’.

International action

On Friday (13 March), a UK-led proposal to internationally control the drug mephedrone is expected to be passed by the United Nations’ (UN) Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. Mephedrone is already controlled as a Class B substance in the UK.

If it goes ahead, this would be the first time a NPS is controlled by all UN members.

This is in addition to the UK’s continuing work with other countries and overseas agencies to share best practice on tackling NPS and to build closer law enforcement cooperation.

Commander Simon Bray, National Policing Lead for New Psychoactive Substances, said:

The government’s decision to develop proposals for a blanket ban on new psychoactive substances (NPS) is a very positive step forward.

It highlights the government’s commitment to supporting law enforcement, including the police, in their efforts to combat dangerous drugs.

A blanket ban would make it simpler to deal with those drugs, which are unsafe but which may not yet be controlled. It will also make it easier to tackle so-called ‘legal highs’ which may contain mixtures including already illegal drugs.

We are also encouraged by further prevention and education measures which have been proposed, as NPS cannot be addressed by law enforcement alone.

One of the drugs being banned today - 4,4’-DMAR - which is known by the street name Serotoni, is usually bought in tablet or powder form, and samples have shown it being mixed with other drugs such as mephedrone and synthetic cannabinoids.

MT-45, a morphine-like drug, is not currently available in the UK, but has been linked to deaths elsewhere in Europe and the United States.

Separately, the Home Office has accepted advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to ban new types of manmade cannabis as Class B drugs.

Draft legislation is being prepared to take action against the latest generation of synthetic cannabinoids in the next Parliament.

We are also taking forward a comprehensive action plan to further enhance our response to prevention, treatment and information sharing. For example, Public Health England has published a new toolkit to help local areas to prevent and respond to the use of NPS.

The toolkit gives a broad overview of the challenges and provides commissioners with resources and advice to inform a suitable local response.

We are establishing a NPS clinical network to share intelligence on NPS and drug-related adverse reactions and harms, and develop a more systematic way of sharing information.