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Vera Baird praises task force tackling ‘lethal’ highs in Newcastle

5th September 2016

Three months on since the launch of new legislation to tackle so called ‘legal highs’ officers in Newcastle are continuing to work with partners to get them off the streets.

On May 26th the government introduced the Psychoactive Substances Act. This legislation banned anyone from producing, supplying or importing / exporting so Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS).

The new act brought with it a possible jail sentence of up to seven years for anyone caught breaking these new laws and gave the police the power to seize and destroy NPS, as well as carry out searches of people, premises and vehicles. It also enabled police to shut down any “headshops” and online dealers selling Novel Psychoactive Substances and drug paraphernalia.

Even before the new legislation came into power officers in Newcastle were already well ahead of the game.

In January, this year, record high numbers of calls about incidents involving NPS were received by police and ambulance crews and this prompted officers in Newcastle to set up a dedicated task force to get a grip of the issue.

This team of officers, working with Newcastle city council, North East Ambulance Service and Public Health began working together to crack down on those responsible for selling and distributing ‘lethal highs’. They did this using existing police powers and the legislation that was in place before the new act.

This led to a number of addresses across the city being subjected to police searches and arrests being made.

Large amounts of NPS, thought to be hundreds of thousands of pounds worth, were seized by officers.

Working with the local authority three commercial premises were closed for selling NPS and forced to stop trading. Two private homes were also raided and handed closure orders in order to stop NPS abuse and anti-social behaviour.

Feedback from NPS users was that because of the work of police and partners then the substances were harder to get hold off than ever before.

A lot of education work was done with officers, health workers and professionals, local authority staff and other partners sharing health warnings and safety messages about the dangers of lethal highs to people living in Newcastle – including in schools.

All of this work has led to a decline in the number of incidents involving ‘lethal highs’ that police are being called to, seeing a fall from 192 incidents in January, to 31 in May and then 26 in July.

The task force is continuing to work with partners and successfully use the new legislation to help combat the issue.

The task force recently had a visit from Sarah Newton MP, the Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Counter Extremism who after spending the morning with officers was left very impressed by the passion and dedication of the team and the work that they had done.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird QC, said: “I have been a determined campaigner on this issue, calling for the Government to take firm action against those who make these products and those who sell them. It’s pleasing to see a strong stance is being taken in Newcastle and through excellent partnership working with the council and others it’s paying off. The work of the task force has been so successful so far that other police forces and agencies from around the country have been in touch looking to learn how the issue is being tackled here in Newcastle.

“We’ve had feedback from local business owners and residents from the city centre and the west on how much of a difference they’ve noticed since the operation was launched and users have told how substances have become harder to get hold of than ever before.

“Local residents can rest assured this issue will remain a top priority for me and I will ensure our officers continue to work with partners and successfully use the new legislation to get those selling these substances before the courts so we can prevent people from getting addicted to them and putting their lives at risk.”

Newcastle Chief Inspector Dave Pickett said: “The impact of NPS on our communities has been devastating and it’s only through our work with partners that we have been able to make such dramatic inroads into supressing the availability in Newcastle.

“We will continue to search for, seize and destroy NPS found in Newcastle. Its use will not be tolerated and anyone found supplying will be caught, arrested and prosecuted.

“We will do everything to protect people and get NPS off our streets. We would encourage anyone currently using NPS to get help and support from health agencies and do everything they can to get off this truly horrible poison.”

Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Regulatory Services, Cllr Nick Kemp, said: “As a city Newcastle is leading the way in its co-ordinated approach to tackling the menace of lethal highs.

“For its part, the council has worked with the police to close down shops that have sold these poisons and shown their catastrophic health consequences to young people to help deter them from taking them.

“We continue to bear down on people who are involved with lethal highs and would like to thank the public for the invaluable information they give us which we always act upon.”