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tv   The Battle Against Legal Highs -...  BBC News  January 25, 2017 3:30am-4:00am GMT

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now on bbc news, panorama. legal highs — they're the drugs that have been causing havoc for nearly a decade. police, police! people thought because they were so—called legal highs as opposed to the dangerous substances that they were, that it was legitimate to take them. linked to 204 deaths in 2015. it was only like a 10% chance of survival. they thought she'd be brain damaged. they have devastated life after life. i started dabbling in it and then i ended up hooked on it and then i lost everything. death comes to mind when i hear the word "legal high". britain has the largest legal—highs market of any country in europe. in may last year, the government passed a law banning them, hoping to stop a problem that was getting out of control. jack's been identified by cctv and suspected of dealing and selling new psychoactive substances. but is it working? we spent six months in one
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of the uk's worst—hit areas to find out. i'm in newcastle, where they've had a real problem with what used to be known as legal highs. the north east of england has the highest death rate from drugs in the country. from powder to pills, to stuff you smoke, there are 640 varieties of legal highs globally. they're officially known as novel psychoactive substances, and mimic the effects of traditional illegal drugs, such as cocaine and cannabis. they can be stronger, a lot cheaper and sometimes more dangerous. this is northumberland high street,
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which is obviously our main shopping area. what we began to get is complaints from shop owners and businesses saying that they were being affected by the state that people were in, who were under the influence of lethal highs. early last year, the city experienced the worst problems with novel psychoactive substances — now known as nps. individuals were seen being sick in the streets, haemorraghing, actually having blood from their ears and nose, they were having seizures and fits. to try to deal with the problems of people collapsing in the city centre, the police, council and ambulance service in newcastle got together to form a taskforce. at the height of the nps use, there was large congregations 7 some of them really vulnerable young people, who would hang around this area into the late evenings, also dealing in nps products in this area. there used to be a lot of legal—high
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users that used to bother the old people, the children, myself. what are your views on legal highs? what, mine? don't take them because they are bad for you. they'll kill you. and have you seen people under the influence of legal highs? i have. what have they been like? lying on the floor, they'll be lying on the benches. you know what i mean, theyjust lie there and they don't talk or nowt to you. and you just think, don't know what's wrong with you. they would come over to you with like a really drowsy look on their face and you couldn't understand a word they were saying. it's horrible! nationally, until may last year, you could buy legal highs across the counter in some shops and newsagents. but before that, newcastle was already closing these shops down. i remember smoking it. i remember having three draws of it, and i remember waking up four hours
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later on my bed and thinking, yeah, that's good. that makes me forget about all my problems. paul is 30 and is in and out of homelessness. he's been addicted to legal highs for several years. i was getting recognition and reward points for the top salesman. i had a nice house, the most beautiful girlfriend ever. i had a scooter. i had everything i could ever hope for. 12 months later, i'd lost everything. £250, £300. is it like heroin, mate, where all your money goes on that? £380 worth. would all your money get spent on that?
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not all of it, but a high portion of it, yeah. not much difference between that and heroin addiction really, is there? other than i would be more desperate for that than i would be for heroin. yeah? yeah, but the difference is i wouldn't set about somebody for heroin. i would set about them for that. you're not a violent person are you? you know that, but when i'm going through withdrawal and i'm not myself, and my brain's not right because of the psychological effects of legal high, you know. this was where i used to stay when i was homeless, normally off to the side, over here, in bushes, in a little tent somewhere. at 18, chantelle became homeless and started taking legal highs. they blocked everything out.
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they made you feel like you had four walls around you and forget your surroundings, where you were, forget about everything i was going through. i ended up doing shop—lifting and doing crime, stuff i never ever even dreampt of doing before, and that's when i realised i didn't want it no more. but once hooked, it's a hard habit to break. there's less heroin users, less crack users but now all people want is legal, legal, legal, legal. it was cider that i used to drink to get me through the cold nights, but now we just have that and haven't even got a clue who we are, man.
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the psychoactive substances act was introduced in may 2016. it banned the manufacture, supply and sale of legal highs across the uk. what the act did was got rid of the semi—legitimate sales of these items, both on the internet and in headshops, so they're no longer freely available in that way. armed with these new powers, northumbria police is targeting dealers selling what they've nicknamed "lethal highs" on the streets of newcastle. over the next two days, we're looking to arrest and disrupt those concerned in the supply of nps under the psychoactive substances act 2016. so this is the address here. if you look, there's a side door, and that's what we're looking to hit. and basically we're going to be looking for any evidence that relates to the sale of nps, so any mobile phones, any laptops with any correspondence on, any packets of nps, and so on. 0k, folks. i don't need to remind you of the dangers of lethal highs. you've seen yourselves the immediate effects on users, te effects on the city centre
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and the community we serve. we're going with two vans this morning. 0bviously, we've got a warrant to enter the premises. and it's all about getting to the premises quite early and securing the premises. police, police! there's a warrant to search this place, 0k? the police found the man they were looking for and took him to a cell at forth banks police station to be questioned later. the next day, the police intercepted a parcel of legal highs at the house. what we've got here are approximately 120 bags of lethal highs which were delivered, funnily enough, to the property this
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morning whilst officers were still there. street value of those is probably maybe £1,500, something like that. they pay approx £3, £4 a bag and sell them on for £12 to £15, so about three times the money paid out. a lot of them are imported from china, but these have come from within the uk. fingers crossed, we'll be able to locate the source of this and then itjust keeps moving up the chain, until we can find the one at the top. it's easy to come across and it's easy to buy. how do people get it? who are they getting it from? how much does it cost you now? with the shops closed down, deals are now taking place
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on the streets. you can clearly see he's got about six or seven lethal high sachets in his hand, and they're alljust queuing up with their coins in their hands. sergeant percival and his team are tracking a street dealer. this is the one we're going to do the warrant on? it's him, yeah. clearly dealing, like? clearly supplying. the suspect, jack lockhart, is seen dealing around the city centre. the team head out to try and arrest him. 0n arrest, police found cash, legal highs and several mobile phones. are you generally fit and well, jack? yes. mr lockhart is charged with six
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counts of supplying and under the new act could face up to seven years in prison. his will be the first novel psychoactive substances case northumbria police take to court and one of the first such cases nationally. paul's visiting mick, a drugs support worker at lifeline, an organisation that aims to help people with drug addictions, and a partner in the taskforce. how's things? getting better, getting there. as the types of legal highs are always changing, paul gives mick his empty packets, so he can keep up to date with the most popular ones. and if ijust show you the back of the packets, it says, " harmful if swallowed, causes serious eye irritation, skin irritation or respiratory irritation".
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it actually warns you to call your poison clinic. death comes to mind when i hear the word "legal high". because pretty much all my friends have died through smoking legal high. at the peak of legal high use in newcastle, there were hundreds of calls to the ambulance service, as people collapsed in the city centre. since the act, the numbers have fallen but some faces are very familiar. it's only early evening and we're already aware of two patients around the department who are here with illegal highs. you get a feel for how regularly we see people. so this is just the attendances for the last few months, and all, we know, related to legal highs. this patient has been back to a&e time and time again. the paramedics tend to bring
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in the packet if they find it. in effect, it doesn't help us a lot, because we still don't know what the chemicals are, but we can spot trends. currently, this one seems to be more sedative, in that we're not experiencing any problems, in that he's quite settled, he's quite sedated, quite sleepy. people who use synthetic cannabis like spice are 30 times more likely to go to a&e than cannabis users. but in terms of deaths, heroin kills far more people. again a legal high. looks like someone who isn't known to us. we're going to get a feel of what's going on, see how he is. i think there's no great concerns at the moment, apart from the fact that he's slightly sleepy. so plans. what are we going to do with him? give him a little bit of fluid. blood pressure is tiny bit on the low side and thenjust keep an eye on him. 0k. with nps, it's almost a revolving door, that we see people, we attempt to impact, but we really
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get very little opportunity. my personal experience is that really once they are recovering, they just want to be out the door. when i go into a&e, they do all the standard tests, but theyjust put me on a drip and theyjust know. it's a case of — we'll flush you out and send you out and see you tomorrow or next week, when you come back in an ambulance. over half a million young people aged 15—24 have experimented with these types of drugs at least once. deaths linked to legal highs have tripled in recent years, and it's mostly young people who are being affected. i've come to meet sharon, who lives in morecambe. the north west has the second highest rate of drugs—related deaths in the country. what do you do for fun around here?
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there's nothing really to do round here. i don't know, it's quite deserted and nothing really much to do. a year ago, at the age of 15, sharon had a nightmare of an experience with legal highs. how would you describe yourself? well, now, i'm a better person. i'm more, well, wiser and more grown—up. i used to be a bit of an idiot. i'd take drugs and think it were funny. what type of drugs? cannabis the most. i wouldn't want to do more than that, but legal highs came out and then everyone else started taking them. she went to a party and, that night, was given a joint. after i smoked a lot of it, i started to feel not like myself and itjust sent me loopy. it's like someone‘s squeezing you. it's like a suffocating sensation, but you can breathe fine, but you are panicking
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because you don't know exactly what's going on in your body. sharon came home the following evening earlier than expected. for her mum, cheryl, it's something she'll never forget. told her to be in for 10 o'clock, but she was in at half past eight. gone straight up to her bed, which isn't like sharon, but i thought, oh, she must be knackered from the night before, wonder what she's done. i was running home. i can't remember why i was running, but i can feel my face going like that, my head started going into the pavement. the pavement felt like it was that far away from my head and i was sinking like that and i was running and i am going down and down like that. iran up the stairs, because i knew if my mum saw me like this, i was going to get absolutely shouted at and get into trouble, so i ran upstairs and went to bed. what did you feel like when you were lying in bed? literally, i could feel my heart slowing down. i could feel it all through my body, just my heartbeat going boomph, boomph, boomph.
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i've gone and sat downstairs with my mum and dad and an almighty thud hit. luckily for me, she'd fallen out of bed. if she had not fallen out of bed, she would be dead. what did you think was happening at that point? at first, i thought she were messing about, until i saw her face and i was screaming, what have you taken? and she couldn't even slur two words together. we laid her out on the floor in the living room while we waited for the doctors to arrive, and the ambulance and she just stopped, she stopped moving, stopped breathing. what did you think was happening? i thought she was dead. sorry. that's ok. my little baby was sat there dying. there was blood coming out her mouth. she just stopped. sharon was rushed to hospital with her mum, where doctors battled to save her life. all i could hear was the machine where they restart your heart going, because her heart had stopped. they got it going again
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and it stopped again. they fought for her that night. no mum should have to see what i saw that night. what did the doctors say when she got to the hospital? it was like a 10% chance of survival. they thought she'd be brain—damaged. they told me to get the family and prepare for the worst, because they didn't think she'd pull through. cheryl was eventually able to see her daughterjust before she was taken up to intensive care. went round the corner to see her, hooked up to all these different things, and they informed me that this tube in her mouth was breathing for her, because she couldn't breathe. she wasn't there, it wasn't my baby. why are you so upset now, looking at this? because i can't believe, just looking at that. i didn't see that side of the story. and it's over something so stupid and so little. does it make you think
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about your family and how they had to deal with it? i just feel really guilty, because like the one thing i smoked, i caused so much harm to myself and my family. how long was she in a coma for? two days, three hours and 45 minutes. can you remember waking up in hospital? kind of. i remember having all these tubes coming out my mouth and things all over my arms, and all my family stood around me crying. i was like, what's going on here? what did you want to say to her here? i wanted to hit her. i wanted to smack her for being so stupid. and then your heart breaks, because that's your baby, and i'd have to go home and tell her little brother her big sister wasn't coming home any more. in newcastle, people who work
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with addicts can often be confused about how best to help them, because of the range of legal highs. we've gone back to very simple messages saying, actually, as a workforce, you know the 90% of this, you know how to respond to drugs and their effects, so we need to do that in the same way. you don't necessarily need to know the compounds, the chemistry make—up, you just need to understand what the substance is mimicking and then treat. and give harm reduction advice accordingly. for users of these drugs, it's not just the effect that's being mimicked, it's also the withdrawal. the rattle, forget about heroin, forget about trainspotting, it doesn't have a patch on it. this was the most ruthless detox
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i have ever been through in my life. you're sick, your belly twists up like a knot. it goes in, so you're cramped over. and you're retching, but you can't eat. if you want to be in a position where you've got fluids coming out your nose, fluids coming out of every orifice in your body you could think of. it's like bile that you're bringing up, or phlegm. then you've got diarrhoea, constantly on the toilet. 0r cold sweats. and i mean you drip, you can see the drips, sweat dripping off you. it's horrible. you sweat like a waterfall. you get hot and cold flushes, you're fatigued. itjust goes on and on as if it's
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never going to end. it takes a good few weeks to get off them, it doesn't take a couple of days. like people say. like the first three days, fair enough. but it's still hard after that, because you are always going to know you can get it. so, in your mind, you've got say, no, i don't want that. you've got to be focused on it, you've got to be a strong person. it's september, and the police have some news about their nps arrests. in particular, the street dealerjack lockhart. the updates we have so far is that one male has been charged and is due in court. in the case involving the raid we saw earlier, the police are still waiting for the results to come back from the home office lab. the seized drugs were sent for testing, which has delayed the case. without being able to prove the drugs are psychoactive, they can't move forward.
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that's taken some time, because this is quite new, so the government and the home office are currently going through the process of testing all the lethal highs that have been seized to say whether or not they are psychoactive as such. our thoughts are that they will be, but we have to have that confirmed prior to any sort of charge. determining whether something is psychoactive is a two—stage process. first of all, the substance has to be identified through the normal forensic providers and then the second stage is for scientists to say it's psychoactive. so, there is a delay, because they've then got to go through that second stage. however, the home office scientists have been working through the most commonly available substances. and if some new substance that's not been seen before in the uk materialises, then clearly that's got to go through the same process. however, some legal and scientific experts doubt that it will be possible to prove a new substance is psychoactive with lab tests alone. i have to make it clear i'm a lawyer not a scientist, but what i've been told
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by the scientific community, there is only one way to tell whether a drug compound is psychoactive in its effect or not, and that's by way of human clinical trials. one might be able to draw comparisons between the drug in question and like substances, but until the drug is actually consumed by an individual, it's actual effect will not be established. so, if a defendant pleads not guilty, will a lab—based test of psychoactivity in a new drug stand up to scrutiny in court? we asked the home office for an interview, but they refused. instead, they told us: the use of test—tube tests to show a substance is "capable of producing a psychoactive effect" is in line with advice from the government's independent experts, the advisory council on the misuse of drugs. police constablejoyce is off to court for mr lockhart‘s case. it's going to be a real sense of achievement, really.
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i think there's only been one or two other court cases in the country, so this is one of the first. it'll be interesting to see what the outcome is. the street dealer pleaded guilty to supplying nps on five charges. but he won't be going to prison. the result from the court is that he's been given a 12—month community order, he's been ordered to do 40 hours of unpaid work, and he's also been sent on a rehabilitation course, as well. so i am slightly disappointed with that result. this is because me and my officers know the really lethal effects that nps can have on individuals who take it and also on communities, as well. so forjack to receive this sentence is a particularly disappointing one for us, after the work that has gone into it. nationally, there have been nearly 500 arrests under
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the psychoactive substances act, but only a handful of convictions — one of those being mr lockhart‘s. for newcastle alone, more than 16 cases are backlogged in the system. and all because of this issue around proving whether a drug is actually psychoactive or not. this is an act with so many areas of ambiguity and uncertainty, i've got no doubt it will throw up many issues, which will require clarification and examination by the courts. i take the view that the act was passed in too much of a rush and it would have been better had the governmentjust slowed down a little bit, taken stock of the situation and drafted a rather more coherent piece of legislation. 12 months ago, newcastle city centre was experiencing scenes like these. this is newcastle's main shopping street and, as you can see. —— as you can see, things have got a lot better.
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but, without a doubt, if you look hard enough, you'll still find users here and you'll see the same in other cities around the uk. and you're most likely to find them amongst the country's marginalised and homeless communities. do you think it's got any harder for people to get it now? how often do you do it? a very warm welcome to bbc news, broadcasting to our viewers in north america and around the globe. my name's mike embley. our top stories: just like he said in the campaign, president trump prepares to enact restrictions on muslim immigration and measures to build a wall with mexico. grave concern. the head of the un criticises israel's plans for 2,500 more settlement homes on occupied palestinian land in the west bank. the british government promises it will press on with brexit despite the ruling from the country's highest court that parliament must vote first. the 0scars shortlist is revealed.
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and equalling the record for the most nominations ever received is la la land.
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