I noted with interest the recent announcement on action to ‘protect young people from the dangers of so-called ‘legal highs’ and target those who profit from their trade’. The proposals under the Psychoactive Substances Bill will prohibit and disrupt the production, distribution, sale and supply of new psychoactive substances (NPS) in the UK which are often sold online or on the high street.
The stated purpose and aims of the Bill are to:
Protect us from ‘the risks of untested, unknown and potential harmful drugs’ by creating a blanket ban prohibiting ‘the production, distribution, sale and supply of new psychoactive substances (NPS) in the UK’.
In addition it is intended to ‘complement the existing UK drug legislative framework in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971’ and provide ‘a proportionate but robust response to the availability of NPS and the problems they cause’.
‘The Bill would make it an offence to produce, supply, offer to supply, possess with intent to supply, import or export psychoactive substances; that is, any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect. The maximum sentence would be seven years’ imprisonment.’
Our staff teams within Mental Health Concern, providing services to those with complex mental health problems, have certainly seen a rise in the use of ‘legal highs’ (or ‘unregulated substances’, as we prefer to refer to them). They certainly can have a significant negative affect in implementing programmes of care and support; and, of course, the ability for our clients to access them so easily is not helpful. We welcome the light being shone on this important issue.
However, is what would appear to be a simple ‘prohibition’ approach the right one? There has for some time now been a call both nationally and internationally to have a thorough re-examination of how ‘society’ and its ‘law makers’ tackle drug use; and then how we deal with the often catastrophic resulting effects on the lives of individuals their families and communities.
There are alternative arguments that the best way to deal with these ‘unregulated substances’ is to ‘regulate’ them (both production and distribution). Alcohol and tobacco, arguably two of the ‘biggest killers’ are highly regulated substances, whose production and distribution follow clear rules. These products generate tax revenues which can then be invested in healthcare services, prevention, and health promotion activities.
One would hope that a thorough and lively debate will now commence regarding how effective the Psychoactive Substances Bill ultimately will be. Surely the more evidence-based policies we develop, the better for all in the long run.
CEO | Concern Group