AS THE Argus recently reported, I’ve persuaded colleagues on the Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee to undertake a full-scale inquiry into ‘legal highs’ - or new psychoactive substances, as they are formally known.
This is a really welcome step, as I’ve long been concerned about the growing prevalence of these substances – particularly in places like the Gwent valleys, where we know their use has become increasingly widespread.
Indeed, this newspaper’s ‘M-Cat Menace’ campaign was really successful – and somewhat ahead of the game - in highlighting the potentially devastating impact of legal highs; both on the lives of individuals, and also more widely, on entire communities left blighted by their extensive sale and abuse.
Tellingly, educational consultant, Jeff O’Reilly - who has been working with Gwent Police on a video and education package aimed at young people locally - recently described the growing popularity of legal highs as the ‘largest drugs concern’ he’s encountered ‘in over thirty years of working in the development of drugs education for children’.
And that level of concern appears justified, given that in 2012, new psychoactive substances accounted for 68 deaths across the UK, up from 51 deaths in 2011, and 42 deaths in 2010.
Equally concerning is the fact that the health service, police, and other agencies, are left forever playing catch-up, due to the rapid development of new legal highs. Indeed, the European-wide ‘Early Warning System’ is reporting that new psychoactive substances are hitting the market at a rate of more than one per week.
The Assembly inquiry won’t begin in earnest until the autumn, although extensive consultation has already commenced, and the broad approach to the inquiry has already been agreed by members of the committee.
So we’ll focus, for example, on raising awareness amongst the public and professionals, but we’ll also look at the capacity of local services across Wales to deal with the impact and harms associated with legal highs, as well as the effectiveness of data collection and reporting.
Importantly, we’ll also be investigating possible legislative approaches to tackling this problem, including looking at the situation in countries like New Zealand, where the law has been changed to place the onus on those selling legal highs to prove that they are safe, rather than the other way round.
I’m also very keen to feed in the views of my constituents to this important inquiry. I can be contacted at email@example.com or via my office on 01495740022.