Home Office to host 'legal highs' summit

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The government will hold a summit of drugs experts and police later as it attempts to tackle the issue of so-called "legal highs".

Home Office minister Norman Baker said the substances, mostly created in laboratories in East Asia, were a "very serious issue" for public health.

They were dangerous because people buying the hallucinogenic drugs did not know what was in them, he added.

The government has imposed bans on more than 250 legal highs.

They are officially known as "new psychoactive substances", with several new types coming on to the market each week.

What are legal highs?

  • Substances that produce similar effects to illegal drugs (such as cocaine and ecstasy) but are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
  • This is because there is not enough research about them to base a decision on.
  • They cannot be sold for human consumption, but are often sold as bath salts or plant food to get round the law
  • Most fall into one of three categories: stimulants, sedatives or hallucinogens

Legal highs are marketed at young people and presented in bright packaging.

Mr Baker said they were readily available, even reportedly being sold from ice cream vans outside schools, adding: "That's not at all acceptable."

He will be meeting experts on Thursday to discuss the best ways of keeping up with the influx of legal highs.

He told the BBC that the Home Office had been looking at models around the world, such as Ireland, where a blanket ban on new substances has been brought in, and New Zealand, where legal highs are dealt with as a health issue.

The latest official UK figures show 68 deaths were linked to legal highs in 2012, up from 10 in 2009.

Mr Baker said: "This is a growing problem. Some of these substances are very dangerous and can and do lead to deaths.

"The way they're marketed and presented suggests to people that they are legal and safe. But sometimes they are not legal and they are certainly not safe."

He also said there were "no simple solution".

Norman Baker Norman Baker said the summit's findings would help with drafting future laws

Mr Baker said the summit and a separate review would inform government policy, which was expected to be turned into legislation at some stage.

The government announced in January that the UK was opting out of planned European Commission rules on legal highs, arguing that they would make banning them slower and "fetter" efforts to deal with the problem.

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