There has been a sharp rise over the summer in the number of cases of young people taking legal highs, the head of the island’s drugs helpline has revealed.
Since April the Drug Advice Service and Helpline has been contacted by 21 callers – some as young as 13 – seeking help over legal highs including pills, powders and synthetic cannabis and problems with overdoses. This compared with just four cases in the same period last year.
‘It’s a huge leap,’ said DASH’s Shelly Stanley.
On Port Erin promenade last week two men were hospitalised and a third treated at the scene by paramedics after taking suspected legal highs.
Police recovered a black foil packet with the words ‘not for human consumption’ and containing a number of small blue and pink tablets.
Health Minister Howard Quayle MHK said: ‘The department needs to establish what these tablets contain to ascertain what action is required.
‘It may be the drug is already banned. However, if it is one of the new variants which are being developed all the time, the department will need to refer the matter to the Isle of Man Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs which will undertake research and perhaps recommend a temporary banning order.’
Mr Quayle added: ‘While it is fortunate these three young men didn’t die – they could have done. These legal highs can do irreparable damage to the brain and leave you with mental health issues for the rest of your life.’
One 22-year-old from St John’s who has used synthetic cannabis told the Manx Independent: ‘I was scared when I first took it because it didn’t feel like normal stuff and me and my mates only got it because it was legal and we could get it online.’
Another, aged 20, who has tried it, said: ‘It’s marketed as herbal and natural but it’s less tested so therefore more dangerous because you get bad trips.’
DASH’s Shelly Stanley said calls to the helpline came from parents worried about their children, adult users and in particular young people seeking help following bad experiences or feelings of dependency. Typical users who contacted DASH are aged between 14 and 25.Shelly said price and ease of access had contributed to the growing problem.
She said: ‘While some people buy off the internet it is usually from those who obtain legal highs to share with their friends or buy off those dealing in specific legal highs.
‘The danger continues that individuals think that because they can buy them online, then they are safe and benign and just a bit of fun. That is not the case. Test purchases in the UK have discovered a high percentage of so-called “legal highs” contain illegal substances as well as substances not listed in the ingredients on the packet.’
She added:‘It is extremely difficult for both legislation and health workers to keep ahead of the game as it is changing week by week. It is very difficult to advise someone about a drug they have taken but do not know the name of but just the shape and colour or logo.
‘Our advice would be to call us on 615622 either for a confidential chat or to arrange to pop in for a chat to discuss concerns.
‘Parents and anyone using these substances need to be aware of danger signs and not be afraid to call an ambulance. Sudden heart palpitations, increased temperature, difficulty breathing, bizarre or aggressive behaviour out of character need medical assistance. For those who have become regular users and feel they are unable to stop using then they too, no matter what age can contact us for help.’