Legal highs: Call to investigate link to prison deaths – BBC – 29 Sept

BBC Website report.

The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) has written to the chief coroner for England and Wales asking him to investigate the link between prisoner deaths and so-called legal highs.

In a letter shown exclusively to the BBC, the union said the drugs have led to a “stark increase” in deaths.

It also linked them to violence and prison officer assaults and also called for improved drug tests.

The Prison Service said it took a zero tolerance approach to drugs in prisons.

A report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), published in July, found legal highs were a factor in at least 19 prisoner deaths nationwide between 2012 and 2014.



Angelus to Give Evidence to Home Affairs Committee on 15 Sept

Angelus has been invited to give expert testimony Inquiry into Psychoactive Substances Bill on Tuesday 15 September at 4.15pm.

Following plans announced in the Queen’s Speech to ban psychoactive drugs, the Home Affairs Committee is holding a short inquiry into the likely impact of the proposed new laws. This will look at a range of issues, including the steps the Government should take to educate groups affected by the ban about the dangers, and to provide specialist treatment for users; and whether enforcement agencies have the necessary powers and resources to implement the legislation. The Committee’s work is intended to inform the Commons stages of the passage of the Psychoactive Substances Bill, due in the autumn.


Laughing Gas is not ‘Hippy Crack’

There has been a considerable amount of press coverage recently around the popularity of taking laughing gas. The media articles appear to be inspired first, in the context of the Psychoactive Substances Bill currently going through Parliament. Secondly it seems it is quite easy to capture celebrities, including footballers, taking it.

News media is rarely a good way of becoming informed about the risks of any particular substance and laughing gas is no exception. I recently did an interview with a local news programme where all my words of reassurance for any parents watching were omitted, in favour of a policeman espousing inaccurate information on health harms. He said ‘one canister can cause an overdose’ which is just plain wrong.

Laughing gas is nitrous oxide, an old-fashioned but still effective anesthetic used mostly during labour as the gas part of ‘gas and air’. The risk of addiction is as good as negligible and overdose is extremely rare. It is inhaled after filling balloons from small metal canisters bought cheaply through the internet. It gives a very short term but intense high. Young people may be more likely to try it after a few drinks, and so adding to the main risk, which is falling over and injuring themselves.

So parents should not categorise this behaviour as high-risk drug taking. Of course, it is not harmless behaviour and it is not a welcome fact that your child has taken something so intoxicating. But neither are they doing anything illegal by possessing it. The law says it should not be sold to anyone under 18 but young people seem to be able to get hold of it quite easily. Last year, one in eight 16-25 year olds took it.

Last month, a friend of mine contacted me having found a few balloons and canisters after his 16-year-old son had a party. I was not surprised he was confused from newspaper reports not least because they invariably call the substance ‘hippy crack’. This phrase is entirely a media invention and is not used by young people at all. But it does imply this a more dangerous drug than it is in reality.

Laughing gas is categorised as a ‘legal high’ but is considerably less risky than others such as synthetic cannabis and stimulant mixtures. Those products can have highly unpredictable effects because a safe dose can be hard to determine. It’s a good idea for parents to raise these issues with their children to ensure they understand the levels of risk, how to best stay safe and look after their friends too.

Parentzone Launched on Hundreds of School Websites

A new online tool for schools has been launched across the country to give parents the best possible advice and tips on preparing their children for adult life.

The new online service, called Parent Info, will give parents the information they need to help them navigate the minefield of issues children can now face on everything from spotting the warning signs of self-harm, to having a healthy body image and managing money in a digital world. As well as giving them the confidence and support to speak to their children on such sensitive issues, it will also provide them with pathways for where they can go for more hands on support on specific issues.

Drugscope Legacy Website Launched

Until March 2015, DrugScope was the national ‘voice’ for the drug and alcohol sector and the UK’s leading independent centre of expertise on drugs and drug use. It was decided to develop a DrugScope legacy website to preserve the many reports and consultation documents published by DrugScope over its lifetime. In addition, the plan is to try and keep the, always popular, drug information sections up to date. If you have any comments, please contact me at or Jackie on

Link to Drugcope Legal Highs information page here.

Angelus Launches New Legal Highs Education Film ‘Vortex’ – 16 July

The Angelus Foundation, the British charity dedicated to raising awareness of ‘legal highs’, has launched a new film warning of the dangers of taking these new psychoactive substances (NPS).

The film entitled ‘Vortex’ depicts a young man confused about the risks of taking a legal substance – eventually he collapses from their potent effects. The film has been launched via social media and will also be aimed at young people through schools, universities and festivals.

The film is being launched the same week as the Psychoactive Substances Bill is being debated in the House of Lords. The Bill will outlaw the supply and sale of ‘legal highs’ or NPS.

Jan King, Angelus CEO said, “Angelus has, since its inception, used film as an effective means of getting information to young people in a digestible and entertaining way. We are launching the film ‘Vortex’ through social media as the best way of engaging with the maximum amount of people potentially at risk. ‘Vortex’ is a very creative production which should make people reflect that legal substances pose just as many risks as illegal ones.”

Westopher Baker, filmmaker from Plymouth, said, “These aren’t tried and tested substances and I have seen a lot of young people around me starting to take them and end up dead, hospitalised or with mental health issues. I felt I could at least try and tackle the issue, in order to reduce the demand for young people to take them recreationally. I decided to make ‘Vortex’ as realistic as I could, to portray how potentially one of the worse scenarios could pan out. Imagery is a powerful tool and people are living in an age of shorter attention spans, so a direct and powerful video seemed to be the best way to try and get the message out there.”




Letter to Home Secretary on Drugs Education – 13 July

The Psychoactive Substances Bill continues its progress through the Lords. It would seem the Government has accepted the need to amend and improve the Bill by including a role for the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

But there appears no plan to make any significant level of investment in public awareness or helping schools to educate students on ‘legal highs’/New Psychoactive Substances. Ministers have declined to give even a hint that anything more is needed beyond the usual TalktoFrank.

This intransigence prompted a few like-minded organisations to write to the Home Secretary (see list below). The letter said the Bill was, “an ideal opportunity for Government Departments to come together with stakeholders to invest in a public awareness campaign and ensure schools offer effective prevention and education on NPS…..We would request that the relevant Departments urgently re-assess their educational commitment to NPS and construct a plan to ensure young people have resilience, confidence and sufficient knowledge to resist taking them and suffering the consequences. “

To date, only £180,000 has been spent on NPS awareness since 2013, which is really a tiny amount. We asked the Government to look at the excellent ideas from the Government for Wales. They recommended a targeted public awareness campaign for young people and also one specifically for parents, an evaluation of current education programmes, investment more generally on drugs education for schools and NPS training for frontline staff. There has also been innovative education programmes created in Scotland by ‘Choices for Life’.

We think that legal highs education cannot be left to chance. When we visit schools and survey students, we find poor levels of understanding of the risks. Last month, five people were hospitalised at a festival after drinking, rather than sniffing, ‘poppers’ which is a toxic chemical. There are constant examples to be found of preventable accidents with these legal substances, which would not have happened, had the people involved understood the scale of risk.



Jan King, CEO, Angelus Foundation

Michael O’Toole, CEO, Mentor

Viv Evans, CEO, Adfam

Jane Winehouse, Amy Winehouse Foundation

Christian Guy, Centre Social Justice

Emma Crawshaw, CEO, Crewe2000

Kevin Shapland, Trustees Chair, Solve It

Colin McGregor-Paterson, CEO, Oasis Partnership

Steve Hamer OBE, CEO Compass

Simon Antrobus, CEO, Addaction