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Sittingbourne head teacher's legal high plea as pupils become violently ill

By Rachel O'Donoghue

A Sittingbourne head teacher has issued an emotional plea for action after seeing the devastating effects legal highs have had on school children taking them.

Martyn O’Donnell, who works at Swale Inclusion Service, on Ufton Lane, has witnessed numerous incidents – including two in the last month – where youngsters required emergency medical treatment.

He warned parents and teachers that children’s use of legal highs – particularly a synthetic cannabis called ‘Spice’ – was now an “epidemic” that must be addressed through a change in the law.

Legal highs are a growing problem
Legal highs are a growing problem

The 46-year-old, whose service caters for around 112 children who have been excluded from other schools, said: “One incident, last month, involved a Year 11 girl who made her way to school and when she got here, everyone thought she was drunk because she was slurring her words and wobbling all over the place. She was then violently ill and wet herself.

“It’s something I worry about, that when you’ve got a 16-year-old who is completely incoherent someone could take advantage of her” - Martyn O’Donnell

“The ambulance was called and they said she wasn’t drunk and then she confirmed she had smoked something on the five minute walk from the station.”

The 16-year-old was taken to hospital and was put on an EKG (Electrocardiography) machine to monitor her heart.

On March 4, a boy and a girl were found in a similar state when school officials went to collect pupils from Sittingbourne station by minibus.

Mr O’Donnell said when he and another teacher arrived to pick up the youngsters, aged 13 and 14, they found one lying in the middle of a busy road being sick, and another being helped up by station staff. They were taken to hospital, along with a third boy, from a different school.

Mr O’Donnell said children taking such substances were not only risking their lives but also at risk of being exploited.

A selection of 'legal highs' seized last year at a shop in Maidstone
A selection of 'legal highs' seized last year at a shop in Maidstone

He added: “It’s something I worry about, that when you’ve got a 16-year-old who is completely incoherent someone could take advantage of her.”

A spokesman for British Transport Police, which attended the March 4 incident, said: “Our officers were called to Sittingbourne station at 9.40am following reports that a group of young people were taken unwell.

“Paramedics attended the incident as did colleagues from Kent Police. Three school-aged children were taken to hospital.”

The Angelus Foundation works to educate people about the dangers of legal highs.

It estimates a synthetic cannabis like Spice can be around five times stronger than regular marijuana.

Spokesman Jeremy Sare says the issue of potentially fatal legal highs being sold on the streets and in specialised shops is a fast-growing problem.

Girl taking legal high
Girl taking legal high

In 2012, more than 73 highs were invented to add to the growing market. In 2013, that figure grew to 81 and increased to 101 last year.

Mr Sare said: “I’m afraid these school incidents are commonplace and they nearly all involve synthetic cannabis.

“The fact is, there is a dearth of drugs education, particularly around these legal substances. If you didn’t know any better you might think it was weaker than cannabis when it is actually much stronger.”

Last year KentOnline ran a campaign to ban legal highs, culminating in a review of the legislation surrounding psycho-active substances by minister Norman Baker.


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