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30 March 2015
'Legal highs' changing face of organised crime

'Legal highs' changing face of organised crime

A surge in sales of so-called ‘legal highs’ online is helping create a new generation of drug traffickers, according to the official in charge of Britain’s fight against organised crime.

Director of the National Crime Agency’s organised crime command, Ian Cruxton, has warned the rapidly growing market for new psychoactive substances (NPS) is drawing a more diverse group of people into the drugs trade.

Experts last month suggested the Scottish Government should work with the Home Office on new legislation amid fears police are struggling to stay on top of the growing problem.

A number of substances have already been banned under drugs legislation which sits at Westminster, albeit efforts have been blunted by NPS producers’ ability to adapt recipes to create new forms of the drugs.     

“We see people entering into criminality within the cyber environment that we probably wouldn’t have expected to have seen in organised crime previously,” Cruxton told Holyrood.

“For example, in the drugs arena we see a lot of new psychoactive substances now traded via the internet. Some of the people doing that are not what we would consider to be your traditional drugs traffickers.

“They might be, in some instances, better educated or may come from a background where we might not necessarily have expected them to enter into the drugs trade if it weren’t for the fact that the internet is facilitating it.

“The interesting thing with it is that while some people would argue that a cyber-based drugs market in some ways is more healthy than a drugs market where people stand on street corners with all the associated violence, the trouble is it’s the same marketplace that exchanges other commodities like firearms and the like which obviously carry much greater risks.”​

Cruxton was in Edinburgh earlier this month to deliver evidence before Holyrood’s Justice Committee on the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill brought forward by the Scottish Government.

Latest figures shared with MSPs by the NCA reveal a 24 per cent increase in the number of referrals of potential victims into the National Referral Mechanism already this year compared with the same period in 2014. 

“I don’t think the human trafficking and modern slavery piece is widely understood,” added Cruxton

“I think people still think it's about organised immigration and, of course, as I made the point in [evidence, the third biggest group are UK nationals who have never left the UK, who fall into the hands of people who exploit them, whether it's for labour, whether it's sexually [or] whether its in a variety of other ways.”

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