A HARD-HITTING campaign is being launched by West Mercia Police today (Monday) warning people that they could die or cause theselves severe damage if they choose to indulge in ‘lethal highs’ over the festive season.
The drive wants to get the message across that psychoactive substances – formerly known as ‘legal highs’ – are neither legal nor safe.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics show in 2015 in England and Wales alone, 114 deaths were attributed to the drugs, up from 82 in 2014.
In May the introduction of the Psychoactive Substances Act saw a blanket ban on the production, supply and importation of the drugs – ‘any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect’.
Conviction of such offences could lead to punishments ranging from a formal warning to seven years in prison.
Det Ch Insp Ally Wright, who is leading the campaign, said: “These substances which have been around since 2008 and 2009 have led to hundreds of deaths nationally.
“No-one taking these substances intends to die or end up with brain damage but it is not worth playing Russian roulette with your life.
“The truth is it is a lottery and there is no way of knowing what will happen.”
He added there was the tendency for people to think they were safer than other well-known drugs, such as cocaine or cannabis but they were often many times stronger and actually posed more risk of death or damage.
“Go out over Christmas and new year, party but don’t take psychoactive substances – you don’t need them to have a good time and at the very least you could end up with a ‘high’ you do not want.”
DCI Wright said it was about educating the public to make them aware of the dangers.
And he urged people to think about their loved ones as well as themselves over the festive season.
“We don’t want families facing an empty chair at the Christmas dinner table, grieving and having to come to terms with a needless death caused by these substances.”
The drugs come in brightly coloured packaging to make them more appealing but people, the police say, should not be tempted to take the gamble.
And some hard-hitting warning posters, mimicking the bright packaging, have been created by the police to get the message across.
As well as the warnings, West Mercia and Warwickshire Police is also proactively targeting the criminal gangs and others who produce, import and supply psychoactive substances.
People should also realise that giving them away free to a friend also constitutes ‘supply’.
“We will take action where we find people committing offences under this act and want to make sure people are aware of the consequences of breaking the law,” added DCI Wright.
The police have also urged anyone with any information on the production, importation or supply of psychoactive substances to call them on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Tony Mercer, Public Health England West Midlands Health and Wellbeing manager leading on drugs, said: “The contents of new psychoactive substances (NPS) frequently change and their effects can be dangerous and unpredictable.
“These substances can cause immediate health problems and lead to dependence, but long-term harms are still largely unknown.
“For people who experience problems, drug treatment services can help.”
The campaign also uses the hashtags #lethalhighs and #notsafenotlegal and anyone wanting more information on them should visit www.westmercia.police.uk/lethalhighs
Those wanting advice and support on taking drugs can visit www.talktofrank.com