Published: 00:01, 28 January 2014
Kent has more shops selling legal highs than any other county in the UK, it's claimed.
Only Greater London has a higher number of so-called head shops than Kent, according to research by the Angelus Foundation.
The charity, which aims to raise awareness about legal highs, says the county has 13 head shops - which specialise in selling legal alternatives to drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy.
That is around 5% of 260 such shops logged by the foundation for the UK as a whole.
Jeremy Sare, director for government affairs and communications at the Angelus Foundation, said: "In the absence of government doing anything about it, we decided to embark on research.
"It was based on online information we could obtain and also follow-up calls with Trading Standards in each individual county.”
He added: “A 100 per cent perfect figure is impossible to achieve but we have strong indications that the total is in the hundreds. Ours is a low estimate, it’s a much worse problem than we can measure.”
The research was conducted between September and November last year.
Greater London was the only area with more head shops - with 16 identified across the city.
However, Mr Sare admitted the findings from Kent came as a surprise, as much larger counties including Lincolnshire and Yorkshire where analysed, with lower figures.
He is concerned about the dangers posed to youngsters across the county.
He said: “The risks on health are immediate. This stuff can really knock you absolutely flat and hospitalise you if you put too much in.
"There’s the short-term immediate risks but in the long-term, it’s completely unknown.
"We can’t have any reassurance from the suppliers about them because they know as little as anybody else - which is nothing."
His warning comes after several incidents in Kent, including at least one teenager dying after taking legal highs.
The most recent case involved three teenage girls in Ashford needing hospital treatment after taking the substances last month.
“The risks on health are immediate. This stuff can really knock you absolutely flat and hospitalise you if you put too much in" - Jeremy Sare
He called for head shops to recognise the impact of the products they are selling.
Mr Sare said: "They all have a massive responsibility and I don’t see any evidence that they are taking that responsibility seriously – how could they when there have been no tests on the health risks of these drugs.
"So they just have to go through this absurd double-think where they have to sell stuff which they know is dangerous.”
The organisation is now urging head shops to change their behaviour, to prevent further tragedies involving legal highs.
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