Mentor UK Policy blog: The Psychoactive Substances Act one year on

Effective Measures on Supply – Time to Invest in Prevention

We are fast approaching the first anniversary of the passing into law of the Psychoactive Substances Act on 26 May.

Naturally, there has been plenty of conjecture regarding its effectiveness and how much harm to young people has been prevented.

The immediate impact was to cut off the supply of these substances from hundreds of headshops and online suppliers to young people. We should stop to think of the huge amount of psychedelics, stimulants and depressants those suppliers could have sold into the market over 12 months. The level disruption has been substantial – the sale of ‘legal’ stimulants, for example, appears to have almost entirely collapsed. The previously regular incidences of students at school being overcome by the effects of synthetic cannabis appears to have largely ceased.

Of course, the legislation could not be expected to have delivered a perfect solution over night – that would be quite an unrealistically high standard to satisfy. Many of the significant harms among the homeless and prison populations have yet to be addressed, with some local services struggling. But often the impact of synthetic cannabis or ‘spice’ on these groups appears to be the only measure portrayed on the relative success of the Act. Its use is not spreading across into the wider population. The media concern for the human cost of taking spice would be all the more convincing if these most vulnerable people were not termed ‘zombies’.

The Drugwise report Highways and Buyways published in February is “a snapshot in time of what is happening with UK street drug markets” and includes probably the most comprehensive study of the impact of the new law. It recognises where there have been failings but concludes, “overall the indications are that the Act has achieved its primary purpose.” It also says some services, like North East Ambulance Service, “have since reported a significant reduction” in problems. The report also recognises the emergence of ‘spice’ as another “street drug” for those who may also have had dependency issues with alcohol and/or opiates.

Drug use is undoubtedly a complex equation, and the law is a blunt instrument, but there have been a great many unsubstantiated reports suggesting the Act has had little effect and the issue is “growing.” There is also sometimes an imprecise assessment about the degree to which NPS supply has gone underground – that the market has merely shifted from legal to illegal. Most people, even experienced drug-takers, would not contemplate taking such low-pleasure, high-risk chemical highs such as ‘spice’.

There is an obvious need for more objective analysis. Intelligence on the regional pattern of use shows very wide disparities of prevalence. We have been working with colleagues from the VSA charity Resolv in establishing an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to monitor the progress of the legislation up to its statutory review in November 2018. Before the election was announced, the group had taken evidence from a range of experts to ensure all relevant material from all sectors was submitted to ensure an objective assessment of the Act. One issue to weigh up is the scale of stockpiling and whether a homeless population would create sufficient demand to replenish imported supplies or whether the market would begin to wither when stocks run low.

Throughout the passage of the Bill, Ministers were continually pressed on all sides about the need for more high quality drug education for young people. This should be our first response – to prevent the harms in the first place.

The best progress we can make is to prevent young people from feeling they wish to take those kinds of risks with substances, be they legal or illegal. Here at Mentor, we are embedding material about NPS into our evidence-based prevention programmes so young people will develop the necessary life skills to resist these dangers.  There also appears to be a growing recognition at Government level that good quality prevention and education is worth the cost. We welcome this recognition; however, it is yet to be seen whether sufficient investment into evidence-based prevention will happen.

A year ago young people could still walk into high street shops and buy unpredictable and often dangerous mixtures of substances – that was simply not a sustainable situation. Legislation like the Psychoactive Substances Act can only go so far in helping to find solutions. The Act has had the effect of removing a significant part of the supply chain, which exposed young people to very harmful but legal substances. The real challenge is to get sustained investment in drug prevention programmes, which are already making an impact in helping to reduce demand.

Link here. 

Let’s Drop the Term ‘Zombie’ Please.

Last year, we published a blog piece challenging the term ‘hippy crack’. This was a media invented phrase, which had the effect of considerably exaggerating the effects of ‘laughing gas’. The scale of harms between crack and laughing gas could hardly be more pronounced.

This is hardly an isolated incident – ketamine is almost universally termed in media articles as ‘the horse tranquiliser’ when it is an anesthetic and is often used medically. It is a problem because so much information about drugs is gleaned through media reports.

In the past few weeks synthetic cannabis or ‘spice’ has been described in various publications (Mail, Metro, Mirror) as the “zombie-drug” (the Daily Mirror article involved a couple in New Zealand not UK). Even the Telegraph reporting on the relatively mundane issue of an improved system recording incidents around new psychoactive substances, said it was a, “national database of ‘zombie’ drug side effects.”

This is a discriminatory and dehumanising use of language. Certainly, strains of ‘spice’ can be very potent and act unpredictably but placing the term ‘zombie’ in headlines above images of people suffering the effects is sensational and demeaning to them as individuals.

Many ‘spice’ users are homeless and many have dependency issues. They deserve our compassion, help and some level of treatment. To point fingers and call them ‘zombies’ owes more to a Victorian showground than modern-day journalism.

People generally need reliable education about the risks of various drugs. But the ability to absorb the necessary information will never be helped by stigmatising those people affected by drugs who need our help.

Calling For Youth Ambassadors – Luton Project Aware

Project Aware

‘Project Aware’ Luton is an initiative which partners Angelus with Luton Borough Council to inform young people of the risks of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) formerly called ‘legal highs’. In February 2015, their unpredictable effects caused six teenagers from a school in Luton to be hospitalised after they took an untested substance. Luton BC now works with Angelus on a harm-reduction campaign that aims to educate and deter risk-seeking behavior in at-risk groups.

The Angelus Project Aware Officer, Kate Zaczek said: “This awareness raising strategy takes a town-wide approach to build community resilience against harmful substances that could impact young people and their families. We have worked in schools, with community groups and at the local university to challenge the normative belief – ‘legal means safe.’ We are extremely proud to work with Luton Borough Council who is the first to address the issue of NPS drug-taking in this way.”

Angelus has campaigned at local events organised by Live Well Luton – at the Carnival and on World Mental Health Awareness Day, in Luton Libraries and, at The University of Bedfordshire and Barnfield College. Over 1,000 people were informed of the new law which came into force in May that makes ‘legal highs’ illegal to manufacture, distribute, supply and import. Possession is still legal.

Angelus has worked with local schools to educate young people on the harms of NPS. Teaching drug awareness is central to ‘Project Aware’ as adequate knowledge will help young people to become risk-averse. The Chalk Hills Academy informed Angelus that they felt more comfortable learning drug safety from someone their own age, so we set up the Project Aware Youth Ambassador Programme to recruit young people.

Kate said: “I’m so excited to set up the Project Aware Youth Ambassador Programme that was purposefully designed to build confidence and independence. Team building will also help young people express their creativity over the six week programme. We are delighted to have Creative Films Workshops on board as they are a Luton- based organisation which is passionate about upskilling young people.”

National Lottery Funding will enable participants to become a script writer, director, producer, filmmaker and actor in their own NPS awareness film which will be promoted on social media and shown in schools. This six-week project is open to dedicated young people aged 13-21 who are passionate about making a difference to their community. Angelus is working with Creative Films Workshops who will teach young people technical creative filmmaking skills.

We welcome all young people in Luton to join this inspiring project by contacting Project Aware on: or 07498 921854.

Let’s become awareness together!

PDF leaflet Link: file:///C:/Users/emily/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/INetCache/Content.Outlook/N0JDWYPJ/Advert.pdf


Creative Films Workshop Link:


Angelus to Merge with Mentor UK on 1 October

Leading Drug Education Charities, Angelus and Mentor to Merge

 Two of the UK’s leading drugs education charities have announced they are to merge. Angelus, is the only UK charity dedicated to raising awareness of the risks from new psychoactive substances (also known as ‘legal highs’). Mentor UK is the UK’s leading charity working to prevent the misuse of alcohol and drugs among children and young people. They will merge on 1 October 2016 and operate under the Mentor UK name.

Together, they have a shared ambition to see a considerably increased provision of preventative education delivered to young people so that every young person in the UK can assess the risks that drugs present. They have already worked together in lobbying the Government to help educate young people in the wake of the New Psychoactive Substances Act.

Angelus was founded by Maryon Stewart, whose daughter Hester died in 2009 after taking a legal high. Mentor UK was founded in 1998 and is part of the group of charities affiliated with the Mentor International Foundation. The organisations recognise that the range of pressures facing young people is continually growing. The numbers of substances available to young people has continued to add to the rapidly evolving situation. The merger is an opportunity to demonstrate their dual leadership in the sector, enhancing their capacity to support educational delivery and to involve Government in finding solutions.

Both organisations recognise close parallels in their work objectives to develop greater external profile and stronger influence so as to achieve common objectives of preventing harm to young people by building their resilience to the myriad of pressures on them.

Mentor’s Chief Executive, Michael O’ Toole said, “This merger is a great match of expertise – it is going to give fresh impetus to the prevention agenda. Mentor and Angelus working together will certainly enhance our capability to deliver on the full range of issues affecting young people. Angelus has shown it is the lead voice in educating young people and the public about the new phenomenon of new psychoactives. Together we will be a stronger force to ensure we build even more young people’s resilience to the wide range of pressures they face.”

Chief Executive of Angelus, Jan King said, “We are absolutely delighted to be announcing this merger today. We are determined to continue to work to protect young people from the harms of new psychoactives – it is clear to us that joining forces with Mentor UK is the best way of achieving that. There is no organisation in the sector which is more respected than Mentor and they have a very strong track record of delivering high quality prevention programmes. We look forward to reaching more young people and enabling them and their parents to be better equipped to cope with the risks that drugs present.”

Legal Highs “Major Factor” in Rising Violence at Leeds Prison

A new report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons showed there were 32 assaults on staff and inmates every month at Leeds prison. Legal highs were a “major factor” behind the rising violence.

Inmates in many prisons smoke synthetic cannabis, known inside as ‘spice’ or ‘mamba’ which causes high levels of intoxication and addiction. There are also significant issues with the mental and physical health of the inmates and increased volatility leading to greater pressures on ensuring a secure prison for staff and other inmates.

Click here for ITV News Report