'Legal highs' link to dozens of drug deaths

DOZENS of Scots died after taking so-called legal highs, according to the latest drug death statistics.

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Legal Highs have claimed dozens of lives in Scotland
Legal Highs have claimed dozens of lives in Scotland

For the first time the report shows how many people who died of drug overdose had taken "novel psychoactive substances", or legal highs, and in how many cases they were implicated in the cause of death.

The overall drug death figures show there were 109 in Glasgow, the highest in Scotland, but, per head of population, Dundee had most followed by West Dunbartonshire.

Glasgow's rate was twice the national average at 0.18 per 1000 population. Dundee was 0.22 and West Dunbartonshire 0.19.

The figures, for 2012, showed there were 36 deaths in Scotland where legal highs were found during the toxicology report, three times as many as ecstasy, more than amphetamines and almost as many as cocaine.

Legal highs were implicated in 22 of those 36 deaths where it was present, which was almost 5% of all deaths.

Glasgow's most senior police officer warned of the dangers of the so-called legal highs during the time covered by the figures. Campbell Corrigan, then chief constable, said often they contain class A drugs and that younger people are aware of the risks of heroin and coc-aine but are prepared to take a risk with others because they think they are "legitimate".

The most common drug present and implicated in deaths was diazepam, with methadone and heroin or morphine in the top three.

The figures and the rise of legal highs has led to government action with a 'summit' to be held in April on how to tackle the problem.

Roseanna Cunningham, Minister for Community Safety, said: "For the first time, this report also includes informa-tion on deaths related to new psychoactive substances, also known as legal highs.

"Working with our partners, we have already made sure these new drugs are a priority for Scotland's Drug and Alcohol Partnerships, drug charities, police and health authorities."

Graeme Pearson, Labour's justice spokesman, said: "Legal doesn't mean safe. These figures, each a tragedy for the family and friends of the deceased, are testament to that.

"I hope that their deaths are not in vain and more people understand that these substances are potentially fatal.

"While lawmakers need to review how we address new chemical compounds which fall outside existing prohibitions, there is a role for the Scottish Government, schools, colleges, universities, pubs, night clubs, health professionals, parents and young people themselves to ensure that the risks of taking these drugs are properly understood."

Dr Roy Robertson, chairman of the National Forum of Drug Related Deaths, said: "The evidence shows drug deaths affect all walks of life and it is crucial, therefore, there an innovative and diverse approach to tackling this."

stewart.paterson@eveningtimes.co.uk

Drugs

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