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23 May 2014
Warning on ‘legal high’ injection

Warning on ‘legal high’ injection

A sudden spike in the number of problem drug users injecting ‘legal highs’ has fuelled fears that rates of blood-borne viruses could surge as a result.

The Glasgow Drug Crisis Centre has witnessed an unprecedented jump in the number of clients using new psychoactive substances (NPS) coming forward to their 24-hour needle exchange.

A specialist clinic for steroid users opened five years ago as part of the Turning Point needle exchange project in Tradeston. Today, almost a third of transactions are for steroid use.

Centre service manager, Patricia Tracey, has now warned of a possible repeat scenario involving ‘legal highs’ amid concerns over where drugs and injecting equipment is being sourced.

“We’re starting to see NPS injection and you’re wondering if that is going to go the way that steroids did, where we saw a few and then it just went up and up,” Tracey told Holyrood.

“It’s very small numbers still. We’re talking about 40 transactions a month or something. But compared to this time last year, there would have been zero or one for NPS.”

A summit to consider how best to tackle so-called legal highs was hosted by the Scottish Government last month.
Police, Trading Standards officers and Home Office officials came together to discuss controlling sale and supply as part of efforts to inform Scottish Government input on a UK-wide review of NPS legislation.

Tracey added: “We don’t want to blow it out of proportion… but given our needle exchange figures [are] going from zero to 40 transactions, it’s a wee sign that something is happening.

“It’s not a major big worry yet but I’m concerned about hidden populations with the internet and people getting their stuff online and not needing to come into services.”

It comes as United Nations’ drug experts warned the spread of ‘legal highs’ is hampering doctors and nurses’ ability to treat drug users.

Lack of awareness among users on the specific contents of substances they have taken is leaving emergency services “powerless” to administer the correct treatment, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.

Edinburgh GP Dr Roy Robertson, who chairs the National Forum on Drug-Related Deaths, added: “There’s a drug culture out there that’s shifting and I don’t think we’ve quite got our heads round that, the capacity to deal with that, and what the consequences might be, because the consequences could be bad.

“In other countries, looking abroad, eastern Europe and a lot of countries certainly in central Asia are now finding that novel psychoactive substances – legal highs – are the drugs of injection now.

“People don’t or can’t get heroin so they inject some cathinones or they inject some stimulant and that is a great spectre that sends a shiver down your spine.

“If that starts, if that’s the next twist in the drugs story, then we could see people at risk of all sorts of things again – HIV, and all that, blood-borne viruses, a whole new generation in a whole new sector.”

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