The number of deaths from so called ‘legal highs’ increased in the UK by an incredible 600 per cent in the past three years.
And that has sparked concern and calls for action from local community campaigners.
There were just 10 deaths linked to the use of the drugs in 2009, but that figure soared to 68 three years later, and with a reported increase locally of people using the highs, there is concern among local councillors, drugs charities and health chiefs that the problem could get worse if action isn’t taken.
Legal highs are readily available online for less than £5 and are also sold in some shops – traders are often able to avoid prosecution because warnings such as ‘not for human consumption’ printed on the packets mean they are sold as plant food and bath salts.
The drugs – known officially as New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) – mimic the effects of hard drugs such as ecstacy and cocaine, but are not controlled by law.
The figures, released as part of the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths, were announced earlier this month, and for one local councillor, it is a stark reminder of the devastation such substances can causeds.
Councillor John O’Brien lost his son Lee due to substance abuse – and called for action over this growing crisis.
“This is a very, very big increase in deaths,’’ he said. ‘‘We have to do something, because this is a major public health concern.
“These might be figures for the UK, but we still don’t know how bad it is in Fife, in Levenmouth and in our own streets.
“As a bereaved parent, I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through what I did, so as a parent and a councillor, I want parents to talk to their kids and to make them aware of the dangers. I will be trying to raise awareness as much as I can.”
Fellow Levenmouth councillor Andrew Rodger, executive spokesman for health, said there needed to be government legislation put in place to deal with the issue.
“We need to do more research on this subject and find out why people are perhaps switching to these kind of drugs in order to beat the system.
“It comes back to schools and the way we educate kids – we need to give them the information on how they can make themselves feel good, through sports or other activities, instead of taking drugs. We need to make sure we have all of the right information to give to these young adults.”
Addiction groups also warned of a rise in the number of cases coming to their attention.
Mark Steven, Fife Alcohol and Drug Partnership, said: “These synthetic chemicals have different psychoactive properties and can come in tablets, powder, liquid or herbal form.
“The danger with them is they are marketed as legal – but that definitely does not mean they are safe.
“If you suspect someone may be having a bad reaction or overdose due to substances they have taken, the simple advice is to seek emergency help by calling 999.”
Martin Denholm, from DAPL (Drug and Alcohol Partnership Ltd), which has its base in Leven, said: “Most services have seen an increase in the use of new psychoactive substances, and also their presentation in relation to other traditional drug-using individuals, such as heroin users, who are using NPS in addition to illicit drugs.
“We have received an increase of referrals from individuals whose substance of choice causing distress is NPS.
“These substances are designed by very clever individuals, who are working constantly on the compounds.
“Unfortunately, this market will continue to increase in both availability and product design due to the current loopholes regarding legal or illegal compounds, as there is a growing global market for these synthetic compounds.”
He added: “Our message is simple. The term “legal high” doesn’t necessarily mean the compound is safe, nor does it mean it is without risk to short and long-term health. If in doubt, leave it out.”