U.K. Sees Staggering Rise In 'Legal High' Deaths

By McCarton Ackerman 02/14/14

Despite overall drug use being at record lows, Britain has seen a sudden explosion of deaths related to dietary supplements and laughing gas.

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Legal highs could be the biggest drug problem that the U.K. is facing at the moment. The number of drug deaths related to dietary supplements and amphetamine-type substances, among others, has risen by a staggering 800 percent over the last three years. Only 10 of these deaths were reported in 2009, but that number jumped to 68 in 2012. Meanwhile, research from St. George’s University in London showed the number of people with legal drugs in their post-mortem toxicology tests increasing from 12 in 2009 to 97 in 2012.

"We have observed an increase in the number and range of these drugs in the post-mortem toxicology results and in the cause of death of cases notified to us,” said Professor Fabrizio Schifano, spokesman for the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths (NPSAD). “The worrying trend is that these type of drugs are showing up more than ever before. Clearly this is a major public health concern and we must continue to monitor this worrying development." Meanwhile, crime prevention minister Norman Baker is considering measures that will boost the power of police and law enforcement agencies in order to tighten the supply of these substances.

Last July, it was reported that six percent of young adults in England and Wales had used laughing gas, often known there as "hippy crack" as a means of getting high. But while legal highs might be on the rise, drug use overall in England and Wales is at a record low. Around 8.2 percent of 16- to 59-year-olds had used an illicit drug in the last year, compared with 11.1 percent in 1996.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.