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5% Discount on Legal Highs, Salvia Divinorum and Everything Else From The Coffeesh0p

Legal Highs & The 2010 Drug Strategy

By John Clarke

Last week saw the release of the UK Government’s 2010 drug strategy, and so far, this is all I’ve had time to say on the matter:

While I may have spent the time since doing some hard­core diver­si­fic­a­tion (more on that at a later date…), what the gov­ern­ment actu­ally pro­poses sounds more ridicu­lous as each day passes, so I’ve gone through all the new pub­lic­a­tions, pulled out everything related to legal highs and dis­played them below for your con­veni­ence. I’ve also listed a few other choice quotes that stood out at the time (I’m sure there’s more to be found, but I’ve only skimmed it). My com­ments are in pink.

Drug Strategy 2010 Main Document

Over the last few years, a new trend has emerged. There is emer­ging evid­ence that young people are taking new legal chem­ic­als instead of or as well as other drugs. Most of these sub­stances have never been tested for use by humans. The imme­di­ate risks they pose or the long term damage they are doing, are often not imme­di­ately appar­ent as their harms are unknown.
  • If the problem is “young people”, why not restrict it like alcohol?
  • Even if legal highs were tri­alled like phar­ma­ceut­ic­als, they’d still never be approved for con­sump­tion because they’re largely recre­ational
This Gov­ern­ment is com­mit­ted to an evid­ence-based approach. High quality sci­entific advice in this complex field is there­fore of the utmost import­ance. This is why we value the work and inde­pend­ent advice of the Advis­ory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which has experts from fields that include science, medi­cine, law enforce­ment and social policy. We are com­mit­ted to both main­tain­ing this expert­ise and ensur­ing the ACMD’s mem­ber­ship has the flex­ib­il­ity to respond to the accel­er­at­ing pace of chal­lenges. The proper con­sid­er­a­tion of that advice is at the heart of enabling us to deliver this strategy, includ­ing the reforms required to tackle the problem of emer­ging new psy­cho­act­ive sub­stances (‘legal highs’).
  • There’s plenty of evid­ence showing pro­hib­i­tion doesn’t work — con­sump­tion will stay the same (if not actu­ally increase); sales can’t be taxed, purity will decrease, users are less likely to seek help in an emer­gency. Actu­ally, here’s some evid­ence our former MP sent to Alan Johnson last year when he sacked David Nutt.
  • When mephed­rone was banned, it was clear the gov­ern­ment inten­ded to ban it anyway, pres­sur­ing the ACMD to hurry the fuck up while redu­cing a lot of their hard work to a mere form­al­ity.
  • The gov­ern­ment wants to scrap the require­ment to have sci­ent­ists on the ACMD. More info on that at The Guard­ian.

The Gov­ern­ment is determ­ined to address the issue of so called ‘legal highs’. We know that these sub­stances can pose a serious threat, espe­cially to the health of young people. We need a swift and effect­ive response and are there­fore redesign­ing the legal frame­work through the devel­op­ment of tem­por­ary class drug orders so we can take imme­di­ate action. We will improve the forensic ana­lyt­ical cap­ab­il­ity for new psy­cho­act­ive sub­stances and will estab­lish an effect­ive forensic early warning system.

UKBA are under­tak­ing enforce­ment action at the border to target and inter­cept con­sign­ments of these new sub­stances. The Serious Organ­ised Crime Agency (SOCA) is cur­rently devel­op­ing approaches to identify import­ers, dis­trib­ut­ors and sellers of ‘legal highs’ and disrupt their ven­tures, includ­ing activ­ity against web­sites. We are also intro­du­cing tech­no­logy at the borders to identify these new types of drugs.

These enforce­ment activ­it­ies will be com­bined with pre­ven­tion, edu­ca­tion and treat­ment. We will
con­tinue to emphas­ise that, just because a drug is legal to possess, it does not mean it is safe and it is
likely that drugs sold as ‘legal highs’ may actu­ally contain sub­stances that are illegal to possess.

Legal means safe!

  • First para­graph sug­gests more powers to ban stuff is the only pos­sible way of “address­ing” the “issue”. Very much shoot first, ask ques­tions later…
  • Activ­it­ies against web­sites, which aren’t actu­ally break­ing the laws? Hmm.
  • Of course legal doesn’t mean safe — alcohol and tobacco are legal, after all. Do kids think it accept­able enjoy their Frost­ies with a splash of ice cold ethanol every morning?
  • Also, banning some­thing because sellers might sell an illegal sub­sti­tute instead is mental. If I went to the super­mar­ket and cheekily sprinkled cocaine on the dough­nuts, would dough­nuts be banned? Obvi­ously the best way to tackle this fairly serious issue would be through reg­u­la­tion. Obvi­ously.

Strategy Impact Assessment

Descrip­tion and scale of key mon­et­ised costs by ‘main affected groups’

The tem­por­ary banning power for so-called “legal highs” is an enabling power and there­fore has no direct impact. There will be some limited addi­tional eco­nomic and fin­an­cial costs incurred by Gov­ern­ment as a result of the intro­duc­tion of the Drug Strategy; however we have not included the value of these mon­et­ised costs owing to the early phase of devel­op­ment and the poten­tial com­mer­cial sens­it­iv­ity of such ana­lysis.
  • Costs will surely be massive, as my next comment sug­gests

Rationale

There has also been the emer­gence of “legal highs” as a new trend with young people taking new legal chem­ic­als instead of or as well as other drugs. Most of these sub­stances have never been tested for use on humans and the imme­di­ate risks they pose or the long term damage they cause are often not imme­di­ately appar­ent as the harms are unknown.
Legis­la­tion is required to intro­duce a new system of tem­por­ary bans on new “legal highs” while health issues are con­sidered by inde­pend­ent experts.
  • How much time and money will it cost to fully analyse a sub­stance? If 10 new sub­stances emerge around the same time, that cost increases tenfold, along with the pres­sure to com­plete each ana­lysis within the allot­ted time­frame (which isn’t spe­cified any­where in these doc­u­ments — more on that later).
  • A great deal of the evid­ence con­sidered by the ACMD comes from users, such as forum posts, hos­pital visits or amnesty bins outside nightclubs, for example. How will they pick up on idio­syn­crasies affect­ing say one in 1000 people? I somehow doubt that a rushed report based on poor evid­ence will be par­tic­u­larly thor­ough.
  • How dan­ger­ous does some­thing have to be to earn itself a ban? Any­thing psy­cho­act­ive is poten­tially dan­ger­ous, as an altered mental state could lead to an acci­dent or some­thing; driving while tired is dan­ger­ous enough to warrant loads of signs along the motor­way but we’re not banning tired­ness (although, that would be awesome if it were somehow pos­sible!). I just can’t imagine a report con­clud­ing “Naw, it’s totally fine!” about any­thing that isn’t com­pletely inert.
  • The ACMD have repor­ted before about what a stupid idea it was to upgrade can­nabis to class B, but the gov­ern­ment went ahead anyway. What’s stop­ping them from doing the same in these situ­ations? This whole idea looks like an under­hand way of intro­du­cing a new super­charged banning stick, like using anti-terror legis­la­tion to silence pro­test­ers or harass minor­it­ies.

Redu­cing Supply

Reduce the risk of harm from new psy­cho­act­ive sub­stances, so called “legal highs”: by intro­du­cing a system of tem­por­ary bans while the health issues are con­sidered by inde­pend­ent experts

We will estab­lish an effect­ive forensic early warning system

We will intro­duce tech­no­logy at the borders to assist with the iden­ti­fic­a­tion of new drugs

Work with UK based inter­net pro­viders to ensure they comply with the letter and spirit of UK law

Cost / Benefit

PolicySummary of Costs / Bene­fits
Reduce the risk of harm from new psy­cho­act­ive sub­stances, so called “legal highs”: by intro­du­cing a system of tem­por­ary bans while the health issues are con­sidered by inde­pend­ent expertsCostsIt is not pos­sible to quantify the costs of these pro­vi­sions. As the pro­vi­sions intro­duce an enabling power for tem­por­ary bans, rather than con­trolling any spe­cific sub­stance, it has not been pos­sible to quantify the costs. The use of this pro­vi­sion will depend on the rate at which new poten­tially harmful “legal highs” are intro­duced to the UK market. A full Reg­u­lat­ory Impact Assess­ment will be com­pleted on each occa­sion that the power is used, taking into account any evid­ence on pre­val­ence of avail­ab­il­ity and use, in the same way when a drug is brought under per­man­ent control under 1971 Act.Bene­fitsFor the reasons given, it is not pos­sible to quantify the bene­fits of these pro­vi­sions. The over­arch­ing benefit of a faster legis­lat­ive response is to reduce the like­li­hood of a crim­inal market devel­op­ing with asso­ci­ated enforce­ment costs as well as lim­it­ing both poten­tial harm to indi­vidual users health, includ­ing depend­ency, with asso­ci­ated treat­ment costs and wider soci­etal harms.
We will estab­lish an effect­ive forensic early warning systemCostsThere will be forensic and general admin­is­trat­ive costs incurred by Gov­ern­ment as a result of this policy. However, we cannot mon­et­ise these costs owing to the early phase of devel­op­ment of this policy option and the poten­tial com­mer­cial sens­it­iv­ity of such ana­lysis.Bene­fitsThere will be non-mon­et­ised bene­fits incurred by Gov­ern­ment as a result of this policy. The use of this pro­vi­sion will depend on the rate at which new harmful ‘legal highs’ are intro­duced to the market. We can expect the soci­etal bene­fits of reduced harm from new ‘legal highs’ through the ability to identify and there­fore ban them more quickly.
We will intro­duce tech­no­logy at the borders to assist with the iden­ti­fic­a­tion of new drugs.CostsThere will be forensic and tech­no­lo­gical costs incurred by Gov­ern­ment as a result of this policy. However, we cannot mon­et­ise these costs owing to the early phase of devel­op­ment of this policy option and the poten­tial com­mer­cial sens­it­iv­ity of such ana­lysis.Bene­fitsIt is not pos­sible to quantify the bene­fits of these pro­vi­sions. The use of this pro­vi­sion will depend on the rate at which new harmful ‘legal highs’ are intro­duced to the market. We can expect the soci­etal bene­fits of reduced harm from new ‘legal highs’ through the ability to identify and there­fore ban them more quickly.
  • No estim­ate of the cost for even a single ana­lysis. This bit also points out that these ana­lyses are identical to those already per­formed before a regular ban, so you’d think they’d include an estim­ate at least.
  • The overall tone sug­gests, once again, that these ana­lyses are no more than a form­al­ity. They don’t even con­sider what might happen should an ana­lysis con­clude something’s not that bad after all.

The ACMD's Response

What else do you think we can do to keep one step ahead of the chan­ging drugs markets?

Chan­ging drug trends can be iden­ti­fied at many levels, all of which should be mon­itored and inform­a­tion gathered so as to be aware of chan­ging drug markets and ulti­mately, harms to users. Reports may be gathered from the National / European level to local level con­cern­ing ini­tially, (among others), seizures, forensics, acci­dent and emer­gency admis­sions, inter­net based sales, service users etc. Such evid­ence should be used to inform drugs that are to be con­sidered.

The inter­net has become a crit­ical vector in the devel­op­ment of drug markets for novel / legal highs. Mon­it­or­ing sales sites and con­duct­ing test pur­chas­ing (with forensic exam­in­a­tion of the products) provides key inform­a­tion on emer­ging trends and markets. At present this is an occa­sional aca­demic activ­ity but there is a strong case for this to be routine.

  • So, the best way to “keep ahead” of the chan­ging market is by seeing what happens when people actu­ally use some­thing, which, as I men­tioned before, will be much less effect­ive with a tem­por­ary ban in place.

Do you have a view on what factors the gov­ern­ment should take into con­sid­er­a­tion when decid­ing to invoke a tem­por­ary ban on a new sub­stance?

The ACMD are respond­ing sep­ar­ately to the Min­is­ter for Crime Pre­ven­tion on this issue. The ACMD’s con­sid­er­a­tion of the ‘trigger point’ for a Tem­por­ary Banning Power (i.e. factors), as sent to the Min­is­ter is:

The ACMD does not believe the point at which con­sid­er­a­tion is given to invok­ing a Tem­por­ary Banning Power should be too pre­script­ive. The purpose of the tem­por­ary banning power should be the pre­ven­tion of harms. There­fore, the ACMD con­siders that the trigger point should be ‘[on the avail­able evid­ence] there are reas­on­able grounds for con­sid­er­ing that a sub­stance does, or has, the poten­tial to cause harm’. As part of the ACMD’s initial con­sid­er­a­tion as to whether a tem­por­ary banning power should be invoked it will look to under­stand the iden­tity of the sub­stance, con­sider related sub­stances, con­sider any legit­im­ate uses and gather evid­ence inter­na­tion­ally and locally regard­ing the sub­stance and its harms (includ­ing, for example, A&E admis­sions, known phar­ma­co­logy, depend­ency and social harms etc.). However, it is not pos­sible to detail the ‘level’ of evid­ence that would be required, nor what that evid­ence would be – evid­ence, and the rel­at­ive import­ance of each type of evid­ence, will depend on the sub­stance being con­sidered.

  • The key phrase here is “[we can temp ban shit if] a sub­stance does, or has, the poten­tial to cause harm” — as I men­tioned before, any­thing has the poten­tial to cause harm. ANY­THING.

Should there be a greater focus on treat­ing people who use sub­stances other than heroin or crack cocaine, such as powder cocaine and so called legal highs?

See earlier answer regard­ing pre­ven­tion. Service needs should be delivered based on the harms exper­i­enced by each indi­vidual drug (although a full service for all drugs would be the ideal). This prin­ciple is even more import­ant during a period of aus­ter­ity. It would be dif­fi­cult to ask for a widen­ing of remit whilst redu­cing avail­able resources. The ideal answer to this ques­tion is dif­fer­ent from the prag­matic one. Reduce the risk of harm from new psy­cho­act­ive sub­stances, so called “legal highs”: by intro­du­cing a system of tem­por­ary bans while the health issues are con­sidered by inde­pend­ent experts.

Legal Highs Section on the Home Office Website

Action on stop­ping ‘legal highs’ coming on to the market is a pri­or­ity for the gov­ern­ment. The coali­tion agree­ment states, ‘We will intro­duce a system of tem­por­ary bans on new “legal highs” while health issues are con­sidered by inde­pend­ent experts. We will not per­man­ently ban a sub­stance without receiv­ing full advice from the Advis­ory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.’

‘Legal highs’ pose a sig­ni­fic­ant health risk, so banning is a public health measure. A ban sends a clear message to users of ‘legal highs’ (includ­ing young people who may be con­sid­er­ing trying them), and to those selling them. Young people in par­tic­u­lar may equate legal with safe and do not always under­stand that these drugs carry real risks.

Mephed­rone (often referred to as ‘meow meow’), an earlier legal high, was made a class B drug in April 2010, while Naphyrone (often sold as ‘NRG-1’) was made a class B drug on 23 July 2010. Both these drugs are now illegal to have, sell or give away.

  • What happened fol­low­ing the mephed­rone ban (cata­lysed by the media’s undue hype)? Ivory Wave.

TalkToFrank Website

This is the only place with any spe­cif­ics about the banning process.

The Gov­ern­ment have announced that they will intro­duce a new system of one-year tem­por­ary bans on new ‘legal highs’ while the health issues can be con­sidered by an inde­pend­ent group of experts, the Advis­ory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).  This new system is likely to be intro­duced in autumn 2011
  • The media keep saying “with imme­di­ate effect” — August 2011 is hardly imme­di­ate
  • The bans are in place for the maximum of a year, while proper clin­ical trials take several years — also, tri­al­ling a new poten­tially life-saving drug doesn’t bring up any­where near the amount of ethical issues as testing a recre­ational sub­stance under the assump­tion it’s prob­ably harmful

Interesting Bits & Pieces

The UK is of course not unique in having to con­front drug misuse. So, as we build upon this strategy, we are com­mit­ted to con­tinu­ing to review new evid­ence on what works in other coun­tries and what we can learn from it.
  • Lol.
The estim­ated £18 – 25 billion a year cost of alcohol misuse spans alcohol related dis­orders and dis­eases, crime, loss of pro­ductiv­ity in the work­place and health and social prob­lems exper­i­enced by those who misuse alcohol and the impact this has on their fam­il­ies. For the NHS alone, the estim­ated fin­an­cial burden of the harmful use of alcohol (reg­u­larly drink­ing at increas­ing or higher risk levels) is around £2.7 billion.
  • All of the sci­ences get £3 billion between them. Just sayin’.

It is estim­ated that 1.6 million people have mild, mod­er­ate or severe alcohol depend­ence. About a third of these will face some chal­lenges that are similar to those depend­ent on drugs in needing support to help them recover. It is spe­cial­ist alcohol treat­ment, for those in this group who would benefit from treat­ment, that this strategy aims to improve.

The illicit drug market in the UK is worth an estim­ated £4 – 6 billion per year.

Should we be making more of the poten­tial to use the benefit system to offer claimants a choice between;
  1. some form of fin­an­cial benefit sanc­tion, if they do not to take action to address their drug or alcohol depend­ency; or
  2. addi­tional support to take such steps, by tail­or­ing the require­ments placed upon them as a con­di­tion of benefit receipt to assist their recov­ery (for example tem­por­ar­ily remov­ing the need to seek employ­ment whilst under­go­ing treat­ment).

Treat­ment should not be linked to fin­an­cial sanc­tions. In this scen­ario a few may benefit, however the major­ity may not as it does not take into account the genesis of the addic­tion.

Defin­ing drug and alcohol depend­ency may cause some prob­lems – even though there are clear defin­i­tions there may still be dif­fer­ing opinion. Sharing inform­a­tion also presents the ACMD with some con­cerns.

  • When we first read about this, Jo & I came to the same con­clu­sion imme­di­ately: the gov­ern­ment has no idea what addic­tion is or what it means to be addicted. Nice to know the experts agree — we can’t be going too far wrong!

***

Well, that’s the lot, but you might be inter­ested in my Top 10 Reasons Why Legal Highs Should Stay Legal..

3 Responses to Legal Highs & The 2010 Drug Strategy

  1. Steve Chapman says:

    A joy to read, as usual. I wish one of our pundits or profs would take a similar scathe to Canada’s broken, arbit­rary and dir­ec­tion­less drug law, which is defined by three unspoken axioms:

    1) Our UN com­mit­ments leave us no choice.
    2) We are scared shit-less of pissing off the ‘Mer’cans.
    3) It’s in the public interest.

    Actu­ally, that last one is spoken, usually accom­pan­ied by a vast amount of verbal his­tri­on­ics and zero hard evid­ence. Why bother with evid­ence when a Minister’s sig­na­ture is all that’s required?

    If the UK’s politi­cians are hypo­crites, Canada’s skirt it only by having to follow no pro­ced­ure at all.

  2. klaus says:

    The whole problem is avail­ab­il­ity to adoles­cents who do not recog­nise the risk, the British media are most at fault
    its a very easy media scandal seed to plant,
    Writing a story about the drug increases aware­ness around drug users and there­fore more stories to write — Lazy journ­al­ism
    This idea of tem­por­ary bans has some things in its favour, as long as a drug doesn’t become main­stream, nothing will be done about it, unless it proves highly addict­ive or harmful

  3. Exzanian says:

    It is HUGELY frus­trat­ing for me…In a large degree the YouTube kids have been killing stuff like salvia by broad­cast­ing their stu­pid­ity and it only takes a couple of incid­ents like mephed­rone and ivory wave for the whole FUCKING deck of cards to come down, because politi­cians see the value of banning sub­stances in light of the mother grundy value that MAY trans­late into votes in their favour!

    WRONG!!!! it’s all wrong…

    The market just needs to be reg­u­lated for cri­sakes, but that is just too much work, too much risk, because the minute a politi­cian makes those type of noises they will be BOOED down and lets face it, the current régime is looking for scape­goats left and right…Dammit! Arrrghh!

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