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Minister hopes councils will play part in fight against legal highs

New ‘legal high’ substances are appearing at a rate of one a week.

The information has been provided by Health Minister Simon Hamilton today (Monday), as he responded to a Private Members’ Motion to express concerns about “legal highs”.

In February, two young girls were taken to hospital in Newry requiring treatment from the effects of legal highs.

Just the following month and another two young girls were taken to Craigavon Area Hospital after similarly suffering the ill effects of these products.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Speaking today, Minister Hamilton said: “The key message that needs to come from the Chamber today is that these substances are not safe.

“Let’s be clear, taking any substance that has not been prescribed for you comes with real risks. These New Psychoactive Substances, or ‘legal highs’ as they are commonly known, have not been tested, they don’t go through quality assurance, there is no way of knowing what they actually contain, and therefore they are potentially more dangerous than drugs such as Ecstasy or cannabis.”

In 2013, provisional figures show that 115 people died from drug-related causes: 76 males and 34 females. 78 of these deaths are classified as due to drug misuse.

Welcoming the action taken by Belfast City Council, supported by a range of key agencies, against “head-shops” actively selling “legal highs” the Minister said: “I welcome the Forfeiture Order and injunction against one premise selling these substances anywhere in Northern Ireland.

“I know that other councils have been watching Belfast’s approach and I hope this will encourage them to take similar action in their areas.”

In relation to the call for legislative change, the Minister said: “The key legislation – the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act – is a reserved matter, and is led by the UK Government at Westminster.

“The temporary banning power introduced in 2011 has been a good first step in addressing the issue – so far temporary or permanent bans have been imposed on more than 350 substances and, when combined with the enforcement activity, it helps us begin to tackle this issue.

“However, we have to do more. New substances continue to emerge at the rate of one new drug a week.

“I am pleased that the UK Government has agreed to bring forward legislation to impose a general ban on the sale of psychoactive substances – providing exemptions for existing products like alcohol and prescription medicine for example.

“I understand this proposal is similar to the legislation already brought forward in Ireland. My officials and I will continue to work with the Home Office to see this brought forward as soon as possible.”

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