Belfast Telegraph

Get tougher on legal highs - Poots

A more robust approach is needed to tackle legal high drugs use across the UK , Northern Ireland's health minister has said.

The manufactured substances can be bought online and sometimes in shops.

Edwin Poots has written to Home Secretary Theresa May to raise concerns following a number of deaths.

He has sought a ban, similar to that introduced by the Irish Government, on retailers which sell the potentially deadly products.

"I am concerned that the availability of these substances, and particularly in head shops on our high streets, may help normalise drug misuse within our society," he said.

"Indeed, these substances may be a gateway to the further misuse of drugs."

At least one man has died in Northern Ireland after taking the now-outlawed mephedrone and a number of other deaths were anecdotally linked.

It is estimated that across the EU one new substance a week is being detected.

In 2012, drugs killed 110 people in Northern Ireland. A senior police officer has said drugs caused a greater death toll than road accidents.

It is unclear how many of those deaths, if any, involved legal highs. Mr Poots warned the effects of such substances could be devastating.

"I recently raised this issue with the Home Secretary, setting out my concerns about the accessibility of n ew psychoactive substances and seeking a more robust and consistent approach to addressing this issue across the UK," he told Ulster Unionist assembly member Ross Hussey in a written answer.

The Home Office has announced a review of how the UK's laws can be enhanced beyond the existing measures of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

It will be informed by evidence from the Republic of Ireland, which banned head shops in 2010, the US and New Zealand.

It is anticipated the review will be completed by this spring. Among options it will consider are laws modelled on those in US.

There, drugs are automatically banned if they are "substantially similar" to the chemical structure of substances that are already illegal.

The review will also look at whether those who supply legal highs over the internet and in "head shops" should be required to prove substances are safe and are not being used as a drug.

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