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Legal highs are openly on sale in Kent. But at least one teenager has lost his life here after taking the over-the-counter substances and another youngster's suffered a heart attack. Kiran Kaur investigates at the start of our campaign
A mother says she is scared every day, as she fears losing her children to a cocktail of legal highs.
The teenagers, aged 14 and 15, have been taking the substances at least once a week since August.
Their 40-year-old mother Edwina and step-father Paul, 62, believe their family is being ripped apart as the pair of Ashford school pupils refuse to stop taking them.
Edwina said: “It’s been devastating for me as a mother to actually watch my children finding these things, taking them and consequently not only worrying about the physical effect it’s having on their bodies but watching them mentally and emotionally change.
"I am scared every single day. Every time my children walk out the door I don’t know if they’re going to come home alive.”
She added: “It’s been so awful I just can’t explain my emotions and feelings.
"I’m doing this interview because I actually want to say to other parents don’t hide, come forward and tell everybody what is happening to our children.
"If we all stand together maybe we can change this.”
The mother-of-four believes her children’s personalities have changed significantly since taking what are otherwise known as New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), along with a cocktail of illegal drugs.
She said: “They’re aggressive, they have outbursts of anger then the next minute they’re laughing and joking.
"They think it’s all funny and we’re all upset because we’ve just had to go through the trauma.
"Their emotions are way above and beyond normal teenage emotions. It’s been absolutely dreadful.”
The teenagers have been getting the substances from a number of suppliers in Ashford, while they’re meant to be in the town for the sole purpose of going to and from school.
The couple have revealed their children often get their fixes from so-called head shops - stores that sell drug paraphernalia among other things.
It’s something step-father Paul is extremely concerned about.
He said: “I’d like to see all the legal highs shops shut down.
"The government isn’t doing enough. The police are not doing enough. The police haven’t got the powers that they need to go in and stop these shops from even opening.
"Trading Standards are the only ones that can shut these shops down.”
While some of the county’s residents feel Kent Trading Standards and Kent Police are not doing enough, the substances currently stand as ‘legal’ - meaning the authorities are limited to what actions they can take.
Kent Police cannot prosecute and Trading Standards do not have the power to seize the items.
With authorities lacking power, the couple feel they too have lost all control and are unable to stop their children from taking legal highs.
Paul said: “They’ve come home and because we’ve had talks before about them taking drugs, they’ve said you don’t have to worry any more because we’re taking something that’s legal.
"They don’t realise what they’re taking, they don’t care what’s happening to themselves. Not enough is being done.”
Video: Edwina and Paul fight back tears to tell of their fears for her children
Edwina added: “Their excuse is 'well it’s fine, they’re legal, we can take them as nobody’s going to do anything about it'.
"But I’m very concerned because we don’t know what, even in this short six months, what has happened to their brains. It could be irreversible.
"Even their organs or any other part of their body could have been affected and we don’t even know it.”
The government has launched a review into legal highs, a move the couple feel needs to deliver results.
Edwina said: “I would like to make a plea to the government to please change their stance on drugs - not just legal highs but all drugs because they’re accessible to children younger and younger and it’s just not appropriate.
"They need to do something.”
She has since written to her local MP sharing her concerns on legal highs and calling for action, before they claim the lives of her children.
If you need advice or support with any issues around legal highs, you can phone Frank on 0300 123 6600 or anti-drugs charity KCA on 01227 456 744 in east and mid-Kent, 01634 338 640 in west Kent or 01634 338 640 in Medway.
Tomorrow, Kent MPs on why legal highs should be outlawed.
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