Larne’s legal highs problem ‘won’t go away overnight’

L-R Beverly Sharples, Gareth McConnell, Annette White and Gavin Johnston. INNT-23-701-con
L-R Beverly Sharples, Gareth McConnell, Annette White and Gavin Johnston. INNT-23-701-con

Tougher laws on legal highs are needed as drugs sachets litter Larne’s streets and parents seek places for their kids on anti-drugs courses.

The comments were made by Secretary of Preventing Addiction Larne (PAL) Beverly Sharples, who also revealed that the group is seeking to expand its premises and to recruit a new counsellor to cope with the continuing high demand for substance misuse support in the town.

Proposals in the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which had its second reading in Parliament on June 9, would give councils and the police more powers to stop the manufacture, supply or sale of psychoactive substances.

Councils could issue a prohibition notice which requires the person to stop carrying out the prohibited activity. They would also be able to issue a premises notice which would require a person, such as the landlord of a ‘head shop,’ to take all reasonable steps to prevent prohibited activity taking place on the premises.

Councils could also apply to the courts for a prohibition or premises order, whose breach would be punishable by up to two years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.

Welcoming the proposals, Beverly stated: “It makes everybody responsible for legal highs and would be another effective deterrent.

“However, the legislation needs to be going through much quicker; it was announced weeks ago that there would be a blanket ban and we still haven’t seen it happen.”

While Beverly welcomed the moves to introduce legislation against legal highs, which is based on the model in force in the Republic of Ireland, she says that more rigorous legislation is needed here to combat loopholes in the Republic’s system.

The Republic has only been able to bring four successful prosecutions in five years, due to difficulties in scientifically proving that substances have a psychoactive effect.

Beverly commented: “We need something more rigorous here. These drugs have several effects: some are appetite suppressants, some are hallucinogens, some will bring you down while some will make you behave as if you are possessed.

“We don’t know what’s in these drugs so maybe we need to look more closely at the chemicals within them and ban the components themselves.”

Reacting to fears in the Republic that closing legal high shops has forced young people into the hands of dealers, Beverly stated: “There is always the concern that it will force the situation underground.

“There are dealers who would go online and bulk buy these products and sell them on, and older people can go online and order them, but by banning it from shops it will be less accessible for kids.”

PALis seeing a high demand from local young people and their parents.

“We are also getting inquiries now from young people aged 14 or 15 at local secondary schools who want to know how they can help their friends who are addicted to these substances,” revealed Beverly.

“We are looking at expanding our services and we are still trying to get funding to expand the building.

Beverly says the appearance of empty legal high sachets on the town’s streets are evidence of the continuing problem in Larne.

“They are all around the town. Mainly they are empty but a full one was also found, which was disposed of by a community worker.

“People find them t their front doors.”