Legal highs are only legal as the law hasn’t yet caught up with them. But that doesn’t mean police are powerless to deal with them. RUBY KITCHEN reports.
“Legal highs may have a nice name that make it all sound OK,” said Sgt Ed Rogerson, of Harrogate Police. “But they are still drugs that aren’t tested.
“We would argue that these are as dangerous as illegal drugs. And our main priority is the safety and health of the people taking them.”
Police in Harrogate say legal high use isn’t yet on the same scale as alcohol or even cannabis. But reports of drug offences, particularly in the town centre, are up year on year.
The latest figures show that reports of drug crime rose more than 45 per cent in Harrogate town centre in the last year alone, from 62 to 91.
Across the borough, from Ripon to Knaresborough, Nidderdale and parts of Wetherby, that figure rose 15 per cent, up to 303 from 258.
Police say it is impossible to fully measure legal high use, as it isn’t a crime, but admit these new substances are having an impact.
“I was in Harrogate town centre last week and came across a collapsed man,” said Sgt Rogerson.
“He had been drinking and taking drugs and legal highs. I called him an ambulance.
“He was in a vulnerable position. We didn’t treat him as a criminal - our priority was getting him to hospital. But his friend, also taking something, was arrested for his behaviour. One guy went to hospital. One guy was charged to court. Both as a result of legal highs.”
These drugs, unlike their illegal counterparts, aren’t covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act. But there are still things police can do to take them off the streets.
“When we come across people with drugs, illegal or legal, we’re not experts on identifying them,” said Sgt Rogerson. “We need to send them away for forensic testing. It’s no different with legal highs. If we are in any doubt, we treat it as if it were a drug. We can seize them on the belief that they are drugs.”
Over the festive period, police patrols were stepped up in the town centre, with specialist drugs dogs who can sniff out substances like legal highs. The issue is very difficult for police to deal with,” sid Sgt Rogerson. “They are not illegal. People openly talk to us about them. We’ve had instances where people take their legal high in front of you, because they know it’s not a crime.
“But if we find there are breaches in the law, we will actively deal with them.
“We know legal highs are being used by people in Harrogate. It’s not endemic to this area - it’s an issue that’s being experienced in every town and city in the country.
“But we will take action if people are breaking the law.”