Law enforcement agencies have admitted dealers are now using legal highs to get youngsters hooked on Class A drugs, while there is an emerging culture of the substances being taken into schools similar to “smoking behind the bike sheds” 30 years ago.
With factories in China and India churning out the drugs – stimulants with their chemical compounds constantly tweaked to avoid being defined as illegal – at an unprecedented rate to fuel the now multi-million pound market, new calls are being made today to tackle the spiralling problem.
West Yorkshire Police’s drugs co-ordinator Bryan Dent, said many of the legal highs are now being professionally packaged to attract teenage users.
“There is no doubt about it, they are being marketed to an increasingly younger market,” he said.
“I would describe it as significant amounts coming in and significant amounts of value.
“You can order these chemicals from Shanghai and they will be with you in a couple of days.
“The people who make them don’t give a damn how much you take or what happens to you.
“We might be reaching a situation where legal highs are as attractive as tobacco these days for youngsters.
“I am aware of a small number of schools where legal high substances have been found. I’m sure there will be others that we don’t know about.
“Smoking cigarettes when you are young will make you a bit sick and give you a cough.
“They do not have the mental health issues of these substances which are designed to play with your mind.
“There is a difference to what would take place behind the bike sheds exchanging cigarettes 20 to 30 years ago and what might be happening now with youngsters consuming legal highs.
“It is a legal substance, but we are about keeping people safe.”
Among the new legal highs found in West Yorkshire is the controversial drug Annihilation – which Strathclyde police issued a warning against earlier this month after it left at least nine people in hospital, while on Friday the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recommended to Home Secretary Theresa May to put it on a list of controlled substances.
Meanwhile, West Yorkshire Police confirmed officers are aware of a group of 14-year-olds being hospitalised for smoking another legal high called Black Mamba.
The stimulants are either being obtained by people ordering deliveries over the internet, buying them from established dealers who use it to tempt them on to substances such as heroin and crack cocaine, or even over the counter in shops specialising in drug paraphernalia.
Police also believe the drugs – which can cause rising blood pressure, heart palpitations and mental health issues – are being widely sold in markets across Yorkshire.
“Because people don’t think we will take any action, it gives the impression it is OK,” Mr Dent said.
“The packaging on some of this stuff is really professional.
“But they are dangerous and the issues are real.”
Yesterday, the final report of the UK Drug Policy Commission called for a “wholesale review” of drugs laws due to the rapid creation of new legal highs.
It follows a stark warning last month from Tim Hollis, the Chief Constable of Humberside Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) lead on drugs, who told the Yorkshire Post the explosion in legal highs means the “rivets are now rattling” on the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.
However, critics – including senior officers – have said as the drugs are constantly changing in chemical make-up, it is difficult to identify particular substances as another version will soon be available either online or from dealers. A national campaign against legal highs is being launched today by the father of singer Amy Winehouse, who died last year following a battle with drink and drugs.