Teenagers bingeing on legal highs is Doncaster’s biggest emerging drug problem, a health chief has warned.
Doncaster Council’s cash-strapped public health department is under massive strain as it attempts to cut hundreds of thousands of pounds from its £7 million annual budget for drug and alcohol rehabilitation services.
And the growing number of people experimenting with legal highs is one of the biggest drains on resources.
Helen Conroy, a public health specialist, said that over the last two years staff at the borough’s drug rehabilitation services have seen a drop in the number of people becoming addicted to illegal opiates such as heroin or crack cocaine – and a rise in the number of people bingeing on a cocktail of alcohol and legal highs, known as Novel Psychoactive Substances,
She said: “What we’re seeing is young people who are beginning to experiment going for legal highs, because they’re so easy to access. A large number are young and vulnerable people.
“There’s almost been a change in the culture of taking drugs, it’s less about addiction and more about bingeing on a combination of things.
“It does appeal to habitual drug users too though.
“What we want to do is make it more difficult for people to access legal highs, because of the risks to health and to antisocial behaviour.”
Police officers say tackling the use of legal highs, substances which can imitate the effects of illegal drugs like cocaine and ecstasy but have been altered to make them within the law, is one of their top priorities at the moment, due to it being a ‘catalyst’ for antisocial behaviour across the borough and particularly in the town centre.
Chief Inspector Lynne Lancaster, of the Doncaster central local policing team, has warned legal highs are far more dangerous than people realise.
She said in the month of March alone, a total of 10 people were hospitalised after collapsing in the town centre from taking the ‘dangerous’ substances.
She said: “They can be very dangerous, we don’t like to use the term legal highs, because that gives the impression they’re safe, when they’re anything but.
The senior officer said policehad taken steps to tackle the problem, such as an order to keep Heads of Donny, a town centre store selling legal highs,, closed.
She said: “Since then we haven’t had any reports of antisocial behaviour. It’s something we’re taking very seriously.”
Mrs Conroy is urging anyone who thinks they may have a problem with legal highs or any other type of drugs to see the Doncaster Community Drugs Team.
She said about 70 per cent of people who use the town’s drug services are self-referred, much higher than the national average of 40 per cent, which she believes is because the services offered are more readily available due to the drop-in approach.
However, the town’s public health department is under great pressure to reduce the amount they spend on alcohol and drug services.
A total of £7,332,219 was spent by public health on drug services in the 2013/14 financial year, this was reduced to £7,026,543 due to funding cuts in the 2014/15 financial year. And the budget for this financial year has been tightened even further – with a reduction of over £138,000 to £6,888,240.
Mrs Conroy said: “Because of our new approach, which is more focused on helping people kick additions for good instead of maintaining habits, and by making things more efficient I’m confident we can provide the same quality of services.”