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Simon Bray - Understanding the impact of new psychoactive substances,17 Jan 2014
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Sir Hugh Orde: A new direction, 26 January 2011
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Simon Bray - Understanding the impact of new psychoactive substances,17 Jan 2014

We welcome blogs from anyone with an opinion of issues in or affecting the police service, providing they are not party political, defamatory or containing inappropriate language.

Today’s blog comes from Commander Simon Bray, national policing lead for new psychoactive substances.

Chief constables absolutely understand the impact of new psychoactive substances.

The Home Affairs Select Committee’s (HASC) report on new psychoactive substances describes the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS), often called legal highs, as an epidemic.

We agree that the growing use of these drugs is a serious concern. People have died from taking these drugs and the future impact on users is unknown as so little research has been done. The supply and use of new psychoactive substances bring serious organised criminals trading in illegal drugs, firearms and weapons into local communities. With them they bring other types of crime and anti-social behaviour, causing real harm and leaving people feeling unsafe.

Just two weeks ago, police joined other law enforcers in targeting those suspected of supplying new psychoactive substances. Across the country police arrested 44 people, seizing unidentified white substances which were found to contain controlled drugs, visiting head shops and removing products labelled legal highs for analysis. 274 people who’d bought NPS online were visited and police wrote to a further 574 to warn them of the dangers of using products labelled legal highs.

In the report, HASC praised police forces making innovative use of current legislation, such as the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985 and General (Product Safety) Regulations 2005, to prosecute suppliers of so called legal highs, forcing them to pay costs, fines and confiscation orders. The committee also welcomed the news that ACPO is working with Public Health England to plan our response to the 2014 festival season - a dangerous peak time.

In light of this action, it is hard to see how police chiefs have failed to understand the impact of new psychoactive substances as the committee suggests.

The reality of dealing with new psychoactive substances is complex. Under current legislation, it is legal for people to buy and sell uncontrolled drugs. There is no responsibility placed on the seller to prove that the products they are selling are legal and safe. When is substance is controlled, we are fighting against chemists who are able to make small changes to the chemical recipe each a time a new psychoactive substance is controlled.

Where controlled drugs, including mephedrone and other illegal NPS, are seized and identified, data is collated and reported centrally. Through their neighbourhood policing teams, police forces have a good understanding of premises which are causing anti social behaviour and other concerns that are linked to the supply or use of NPS. Police forces also record intelligence relating to NPS, particularly where associated with criminality.

However, it is to be expected that police will focus greater attention on those drugs which are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act and, within that, on those drugs which are deemed by Government to cause the most serious harms.

It is important to understand the problem of NPS but we need to be careful about not creating an overly bureaucratic system to do this if it takes officer time away from enforcement without positively impacting on the police’s ability to protect people from these drugs and the harms that go with them.

The Government review of new psychoactive substances aims to produce evidence-based tailored powers that will help us to tackle this threat and I look forward to being a part of that review. In the mean time, we will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to reduce the harms NPS can cause.

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