Rise of Legal Highs #legalhighs

shutterstock_218274139There has been a disturbing global increase in New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) – often called ‘legal highs’ – and nowhere, currently, are they more prevalent than in the UK.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the UK has the biggest market for legal highs in the whole of the EU. The World Drug Report states that 670,000 Britons aged 15-24 have tried them at least once.

Legal highs often have similar effects to cannabis, heroin and amphetamines, and are sold as uppers, downers or hallucinogenics on the UK high street and over the internet. Since legal highs cannot be sold for human consumption, they are often sold as plant food, incense, or salts. The trouble is that buyers cannot be certain what the product will contain, and adverse effects cannot be predicted.  These substances are not controlled yet because there is not enough information on them to base a decision. However, ‘legal highs’ are increasingly being researched to identify the dangers and determine if they should be made illegal.

Legal highs have been directly associated with anti-social behaviour, causing some of the same problems as illegal drug use. Some users of legal highs steal to get the money for their fix, and drug-induced behaviour often leads to criminal activity and endangerment.

In Morriston, Swansea, “new psychoactive substances have become the biggest cause of anti-social behaviour”, Councillor Andrea Lewis said. “We had young people behaving erratically, literally running out into the street into oncoming traffic.”

Police forces in Wales have seen incidents involving legal highs increase from 18 in 2012 to twenty times that many: 371 in 2014.

A BBC News investigation discovered that legal highs can be more addictive than some illegal drugs – and are getting stronger. Benzofuran and Mephedrone have even been banned. However, as soon as certain substances are made illegal, new ones are produced and on sale.

Some people are seriously affected by legal highs, and doctors are concerned.

“We are seeing increasing numbers of people going into mental health units with acute psychotic episodes after having taken some of these legal substances,” said Julia Lewis, Clinical Director for adult and specialist mental health services. “We are hearing of quite young people having heart attacks; I treated one 17-year-old boy who’d had a small heart attack on one of these substances.”

To receive help and signposting to organisations offering advice and support with drug issues, contact the BBC Action Line on 08000 680 118

Or contact FRANK, the drugs information agency directly, 24/7/365, on 0300 123 6600

Georges Petitjean

Founder, Arthur Coaching

Arthur trains individuals to become professional Young People Coaches. Our mission is to facilitate access to quality leadership coaching for young people.


Arthur Coaching: Young people in crisis #coaching #youngpeople

shutterstock_51249808Vulnerable young people in distress are being locked up by the police because there is nowhere to accommodate them. Police took into custody two hundred and thirty-six under-18s, detained under the Mental Health Act, from April 2013 – March 2014, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

In some counties like Norfolk, Hampshire and Devon, there are no dedicated safe places to assess or detain vulnerable people under 16 in crisis. Instead, they are usually locked in police vans or prison cells for long periods if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others because of a mental health problem.

In six British counties, only one young person can be accommodated at a time, and Lincolnshire can accept just two in Scunthorpe, in the north – leaving the rest of the large, rural county with no recourse.

Although mental health units and general hospitals could take in these young people in principle, they are often understaffed or full. A number of patients are refused admission to these mental health units because they have taken drugs, are drunk, or are displaying ‘disturbed’ behaviour. And yet, it is common for people in mental health crisis to have drug and alcohol issues, too. Self-medication is a way of coping.

Desperately, young patients may be placed wherever there is a vacancy – usually far away from home, family, friends and the experts who know them: an alienating and frightening experience for already vulnerable young people in mental distress.

Out of 23,000 incidents in Britain in April 2013- March 2014, a quarter resulted in the young person being locked in a police cell. 753 involved people under 18; and 236 were taken into police custody. The Mental Health Act states that police custody should be used only in exceptional circumstances.

Dr. Paul Lelliott, deputy chief inspector of hospitals, and the Care Quality Commission’s mental health lead, says: “… if a single child is taken to a police station rather than a hospital when they experience a mental health crisis, that is one child too many.”

“It’s hard to see how a police cell could possibly be considered a more suitable option,” said Sarah Wollaston, MP and former GP, who chairs the Health Select Committee. “As a former police forensic examiner, I would suggest that anyone who believes so has probably never spent time in one; they are frightening places, especially at night. What message does it send to a child already in a distressed state and at risk?”

University of Reading psychologists also reported in November 2014 that teenagers were being treated with a “one-size-fits-all” approach to psychological problems. Treatments used with teenagers are usually just adapted from those used with young children.

This issue has raised ongoing concern about inadequate political interest in mental health services and its funding in England.

“There would be a national outcry if people experiencing a physical health crisis were treated in the same way,” said Dr. Paul Lelliott.

According to the Care Quality Commission, 10% of children aged 5 -16 suffer some kind of mental disorder; most commonly anxiety, depression or behavioural difficulties. Since this figure is said to rise to one in four adults experiencing mental health problems at some time in their life – what are we doing wrong?

Georges Petitjean

Founder, Arthur Coaching

Arthur trains individuals to become professional Young People Coaches. Our mission is to facilitate access to quality leadership coaching for young people.