YOUR AM WRITES: Torfaen AM Lynne Neagle
4:03pm Tuesday 24th December 2013 in News
WITH the festive season in full swing, it’s very worrying to think that many young people will be experimenting with so called ‘legal highs’ for the first time this Christmas.
This newspaper’s long running ‘M-Cat Menace’ campaign has really effectively highlighted the often devastating impact of these drugs; not just on the health and wellbeing of those who use them, but also on the families and communities that end up caught in the crossfire.
And while thankfully, nobody is calling for a repeat of the ineffective ‘just say no’ approach we saw in the 1980s, there does appear to be a growing consensus that more needs to be done to address this really worrying trend.
This is particularly true in places like the Gwent Valleys, where the use of these drugs is particularly prevalent, and where residents see daily the really serious health and social challenges that can result.
From conversations I’ve had with the police and with health professionals recently, it’s clear that the term ‘legal highs’ is in itself part of the problem.
There’s a very common misconception that somehow because these substances are legal – or were legal in the past – they are safer than controlled drugs.
In reality, the fact that these drugs are so new and therefore under-researched means that people taking them could end up taking massive unforeseen risks with their health, particularly if their use is combined with alcohol and other drugs, and not least because it’s often unclear exactly what substances these ‘legal highs’ contain.
That’s why I believe it’s vital we seek to tackle this issue holistically, and that as well as strengthening the law, we also need to ensure that the NHS and other agencies play their part too – whether that means sharing information on hospital admissions associated with legal highs, for example, or doing more to involve GPs who are often the first port of call for those worried about substance abuse.
Having met with a number of Torfaen councillors and representatives of Gwent Police earlier this month, I intend to make this a campaigning priority in the year ahead.
I’ve already raised the issue with the Assembly’s health minister, and I’m organising a meeting with the health board, the police and other agencies to try and establish a joint approach to tackling this issue locally.
For confidential information and advice, meanwhile, contact the ‘Talk to Frank’ helpline on 0300 1236600 or the Wales Drug And Alcohol Helpline ‘DAN247’ on 0808 808 2234.
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