Published: 08:01, 21 March 2014
One death from a legal high is one death too many.
That is from government minister Norman Baker, who launched a review into the substances last December to help prevent further harm to people across the UK, including Kent.
Legal highs led to 52 deaths in England and Wales in 2012, up from 29 the previous year, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The government has banned more than 200 substances since coming to power and Mr Baker’s aim is to undergo the same process.
He said: “We’ve suddenly got a whole lot of new substances that people don’t know what the long term effects are, how safe they are, whether or not they’re harmless or whether they could cause a fatality.
“Many of our young people up and down the country are trying these substances, sometimes with pretty horrible effects.”
He added: “There are serious issues and that’s why the government’s taking it very seriously.”
The KM Group handed him a dossier yesterday afternoon, containing the findings of our High Time campaign.
It is calling for clearer warnings on packaging and for a firm ID policy to be brought into force, before legal highs are sold over the counter.
Mr Baker accepted the dossier at the House of Commons and confirmed it will be fed into the government review – a move which could lead to sweeping changes to the UK’s drug laws.
He said: “I’ve been very pleased to meet today with two local MPs to talk about the campaign which newspaper group, the Kent Messenger, has been running on this very important issue which naturally and very rightfully concerns a lot of people.”
He added: “It’s good to see the group taking this issue seriously to understand how it’s affecting people on a day-to-day basis in an important part of the country and to quantify and articulate it in this particular way and that will be very useful to feed into the review.”
The KM Group also received the support of two Kent MPs who have backed the High Time campaign since it launched in January, earlier this year.
One of them is Tracey Crouch who represents Chatham and Aylesford.
She said: “I think it’s very important that we try to actually raise awareness about the dangers of these drugs. I think this is an important aspect of the campaign, to raise it with the minister.
“I think the government needs to be aware of the consequences of these drugs at the real ground level.
"I think that it might not be something that Norman Baker and any of the civil servants are seeing from a personal perspective so having these instances raised with him I think is important."
Ms Crouch feels the collection of news stories originating from Kent which all have the common factor of legal highs will show that there are clear efforts to crackdown on the substances in the county.
She said: "I think it will give him [Norman Baker] the evidence that there is real concern in Kent about the issue of legal highs.
“I think it shows we are delivering local information to the minister.”
MP for Canterbury and Whitstable, Julian Brazier, was also present as the KM Group handed over the dossier. He has been discussing the issue with Mr Baker for months, raising his concerns about headshops, shops which openly sell legal highs.
He is hoping the government’s conclusion will help lead to a breakthrough.
“It’s good to see the (KM) group taking this issue seriously to understand how it’s affecting people on a day-to-day basis in an important part of the country" - Norman Baker MP
He said: “This is all about exchanging ideas as to how we move on to deal with this horrible problem.
“I hope that we will find a way of getting these shops closed down.”
Mr Baker is promising experts are working hard to ensure the most effective way of dealing with legal highs is brought into force.
He said: "There’s a panel of the best professionals from the law enforcement world, from the health world, education, physiologists and so on to see what can be done about this and how best to minimise the dangers that can be caused by legal highs.
He added: “That panel’s working very hard, I want a report from them as soon as we possibly can and we’ll take a view on how best to deal with this in terms of legislation and other impacts and other possibilities.”
A conclusion is set to be delivered by summer 2014.
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