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Drugs law: Campaigners back warnings over 'legal highs'

Drug campaigners have today backed calls from senior police officers who have warned that new laws to ban so-called 'legal highs' will not be as effective as the Government hopes.

At present, the government strategy to tackle legal highs is to place them on lists of banned substances, a move which experts say won't work.

'Legal highs' are drugs which offer users similar effects to banned substances but avoid punishment by having altered chemical structures. They are continually evolving, and as they are not illegal can be sold freely over the internet.

Police and drug experts frequently warn that the effects of 'legal highs' can be as great or greater than existing illegal drugs, and that users are put in danger as they may not be aware of what they are taking. However, they also acknowledge that use of substances is a lifestyle choice for many young people, and does not contribute to serious criminality.

The UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) analyses UK drug laws to assess their effectiveness. They say that adding new substances to a list won't help. Roger Howard is the UKDPC chief executive.

"We are deluding ourselves if we think that the temporary ban will solve the problem," he said.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) agree, saying that adding to the long list of banned substances was not the answer to dealing with the complex challenge posed by drugs and legal highs.

In a statement, they said: "[We question] the extent to which legislation can realistically be used to address active choices being made by [predominantly young] people."

All sides of the argument agree that the Government requires a mechanism to outlaw worrying new substances when they come to the market. However, Mr Howard said that the authorities should look to other powers to help in the fight against drugs.

"We should think instead about what other powers we can use. Trading standards controls could provide a boosted first line of defence," he said.

"We should encourage retailers to work with the authorities to reduce the damage that drug use can cause, and allow us to bring some discipline to an unregulated market," he added.

The Government's own drug advisors accept that they need a better way of dealing with 'legal highs'. They acknowledge that as quick as one substance is outlawed, so another is produced to avoid the law. Their worry is that the authorities could be overwhelmed if the current strategy continues.

Related links:

Read more on the story (The Independent)

Drugs and your child (FindLaw)