Babies are ‘hooked on legal highs’

A collection of legal highs
A collection of legal highs
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Some Scarborough babies are born addicted to legal highs.

The shock revelation marks the anniversary of police declaring war on the deadly substances in Scarborough, which has now been identified as the region’s legal high capital.

Scarborough News campaign'NSEN'Ban the Legal Highs'Ban Legal Highs'Legal High'July 2014

Scarborough News campaign'NSEN'Ban the Legal Highs'Ban Legal Highs'Legal High'July 2014

Services - including A&E - are buckling under the strain of an “epidemic” sources say is quickly crippling the town.

And as she admits to fearing the Government’s proposed ban is flawed, Scarborough’s most senior police officer has spoken of the “extreme” impact legal highs are having on Scarborough.

“We are seeing a number of babies born that are demonstrating withdrawal symptoms very quickly after birth and for extended periods of time,” said temporary chief inspector Lindsey Stamp.

She told a North Yorkshire Police meeting that the symptoms differ from those experienced by mothers using drugs like heroin during pregnancy.

That meeting also heard that North Yorkshire County Council has said Scarborough is “at risk” from legal highs - the region’s only town to receive the damning accolade.

It also heard:

• Many users have been left with “horrendous” chemical burns after injecting legal highs into their blood.

• A sharp rise in violent crime in Scarborough - and jail - has been linked to legal highs.

• Drug dealers are peddling legal highs alongside drugs like crack and M-Cat.

The meeting also heard that teenagers, especially those aged around 15, are most likely to get hooked on the over-the-counter powders.

It’s this impact on Scarborough’s youth that sparked mum Alexa Neal to start the group “Mothers Against Legal Highs”.

It was formed in the same week one year ago that police raided one of two Scarborough “head shops” - which sell legal highs - in the first public crackdown on them.

Alexa started the Facebook group after seeing first hand children becoming violently ill after getting their hands on legal highs.

“Certainly the scenes we saw last year regarding their use in places like parks have slowly disappeared,” she said.

In the last year, Scarborough Council outlawed the sale of legal highs in its units while May’s Queen’s Speech heard how the Government is pushing through legislation - which The Scarborough News campaigned for - to ban them altogether.

The borough’s MP Robert Goodwill says that the legislation is currently being drafted, adding: “We should get a second reading in the autumn with Royal Assent before the parliamentary session ends in the spring.

“I am sure that they are wrestling with the challenges of wording the bill in a watertight way.”

But despite the legislation’s announcement being greeted with joy from campaigners, Alex feels it’s already driving the sale of legal highs underground ahead of a likely blanket ban next year. And Chief Inspector Stamp added: “There is concern this bill won’t answer all of our problems.

She said one problem is that unlike the Misuse of Drug Act it runs alongside, it won’t allow officers to search suspects.

And she said that there are “inconsistencies” with the current wording that need tightening as in its present form it would be difficult to enforce and open to legal challenge.

Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan, who chaired the Corporate Performance, Delivery and Scrutiny Board meeting, has now vowed to lobby MPs to ensure the legislation is watertight when it comes in.

And describing the impact legal highs were putting on key services, especially healthcare, a report put before the board read: “The difficulty is they do not know what they are dealing with.

“Some of the older adult drug-users are starting to experiment which brings its own dangers as these are people who have previously been stable on opiate substances for a significant time and are now introducing chemical compounds to them and that is causing some significant danger and demand on medical services.”

That extra strain is being felt perhaps the most in Scarborough’s A&E. Figures disclosed last October revealed that children as young as 12 were being rushed to hospital after dabbling with the potions.

And Ed Smith, emergency department consultant at Scarborough Hospital, admitted the service is feeling the strain from the rise in their use.

“We are seeing a significant impact of the use of legal highs particularly by young people in our community,” he said.

“The short and long term effects of legal highs are highly unpredictable and we would advocate avoiding such substances.”

But one year since the police raided Culture Counter - action in which no charges were ever brought - concerns the problem is getting worse are, in Alexa’s eyes, countered by the progress she feels Scarborough had made in highlighting a problem that 12 months ago was merely a hidden danger.

“I think we have done what needed to be done in this town by creating awareness and giving advice about the dangers of legal highs,” she said.

“It will make our town a better place once shops stop selling them.”