A BBC Wales investigation has warned that so-called ‘legal highs’ are getting stronger and in some instances can be even more addictive than illicit drugs.
Legal highs, or new psychoactive substances (NPS), mimic the effects of banned substances such as cannabis and heroin, but can be sold on the high street and on the internet.
The investigation for the Eye on Wales programme was exploring whether legal highs should be banned completely.
Josie Smith, from the Welsh drug testing agency Wedinos, said: “What we have found, certainly in the past year, is an increase in the strength of NPS drugs, not only the range of NPS that’s on the market, but some of the substances.
“They have addiction potential far higher than some of the controlled substances.”
Welsh police forces recorded a 20-fold jump in the number of incidents where the term “legal high” was mentioned – from 18 in 2012 to 371 in 2014.
The increase in Wales is comparable to that seen in some areas around the rest of the UK.
Swansea Councillor Andrea Lewis said: “New psychoactive substances have become the biggest cause of anti-social behaviour in this area.”
Earlier this month data released by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) showed police incidents involving legal highs had more than doubled over a period of twelve months.
The figures revealed that there were at least 3,652 incidents last year, compared to 1,356 in the previous year.
Some of the largest increases were witnessed in rural areas, including Lincolnshire and Norfolk.
Christian Guy, director of the CSJ, said: “It is too easy for young people to walk into high street shops and buy these drugs – many of them as dangerous and addictive as Class A substances.
“If we want to start responding to the problems caused by ‘legal highs’ we need to clamp down on those making a living out of selling them.”
Currently psychoactive substances are banned on a case-by-case basis in the UK. But the Home Office is drafting new legislation to place a blanket ban on all such substances. It hopes to have this in place ahead of the General Election in May.