'Legal highs' expert group set up

An expert group is to be set up to look at ways of tackling the sale and supply of so-called "legal highs".

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The panel will review the powers available to crack down on new psychoactive substances (NPS) which have been implicated in dozens of deaths in Scotland in recent years.

Community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham made the announcement as she prepared to attend the British-Irish Council on the Misuse of Substances in Dublin today.

It follows a Scottish Government summit on new drugs in April.

The working group will consider the devolved and reserved powers available to authorities including Police Scotland and Trading Standards, and contribute to the Scottish Government's response to the Home Office review of NPS legislation which is expected to be published later this year.

Between 2009 and 2012, NPS were implicated in 73 deaths in Scotland. In 14 of the cases it was the only substance taken prior to death.

Substances sold as legal highs are produced to have similar effects to drugs such as Ecstasy but they fall outside the UK Government's misuse of drugs laws.

Ms Cunningham said: "Today's meeting in Dublin underlines the Scottish Government's commitment to work with our partners in Scotland and across the UK to combat the supply and use of 'new drugs'.

"Drugs legislation and the legality of new psychoactive substances, or 'legal highs' as they are known, are the responsibility of Westminster.

"We in Scotland do not have the power to ban them but we are absolutely determined to do all that we can to restrict access to them, and educate people about the inherent dangers to minimise any further loss of life.

"It's important the we have a clear understanding of the powers which are currently available to us in relation to these substances and that those powers are used to maximum effect - that's why the establishment of this expert group is so important."

The minister said the lack of information about ingredients used in NPS and the "devastating" effects that they can have is a major concern in Scotland and across the world.

She said the move towards establishing the group as the festival season approaches is "particularly timely".

An announcement on the group membership is expected later. Representatives of organisations which have experience in tackling the sale and supply of NPS have been invited to take part.

The United Nations and the European Union recorded 73 new drugs in 2012, with 693 online shops selling legal highs across Europe in the same year.

In June last year, the UK Government placed banning orders on four types of the legal high N-Bomb and the legal substance Benzo Fury after they were linked to deaths.

Legal highs are often labelled and sold as plant food or bath salts, or marked as not fit for human consumption, as a tactic to avoid the law.

They are easily accessible online and have been found on sale at petrol stations, newsagents and takeaways.


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