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Drugs Policy

Volume 572: debated on Thursday 12 December 2013

I am today announcing that the coalition Government will conduct a review into new psychoactive substances. We are prepared to enhance our UK-wide legislative framework to ensure that law-enforcement agencies have the best available powers, sending out the clearest possible message that the trade in these substances is reckless and that these substances can be dangerous to health, even fatal.

At the heart of the review will be external expertise drawn from law-enforcement agencies and local authorities, together with medical and social science, forensic experts and academics. The terms of reference can be found on the Home Office website and a copy will be placed in the House Library.

New psychoactive substances—so-called “legal highs”—are a significant global challenge. They can pose serious risks to public health and safety. Despite often being marketed as legal alternatives to controlled substances, in 2011, 19% of them contained illegal substances. Users can have no certainty of the health risks that will arise from using them or their legal status. We take this very seriously and together with law-enforcement partners, the Home Office has recently taken part in a concerted programme of enforcement activity. This has resulted in 73 warrants being deployed, 44 arrests and the seizure of a large number of illicit items, including banned new psychoactive substances. However, the market continues to evolve with the rapid development of new drugs.

The coalition Government has put in place a forensic early warning system which enables us to closely monitor the availability of these substances, so we can target activity to reduce demand and supply. Hundreds of these drugs have already been banned under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the UK is playing a leading role in galvanising international partners and institutions to tackle the threat from these new drugs. Using the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, I have asked the Advisory Council to put in place a process by which the range of our generic definitions—used to ban families of harmful drugs—is reviewed, with the first tranche of its advice due in early 2014.

We have also published guidance for local authorities on a range of legislative tools already available to tackle “head-shops” across the UK. This can be found on the Home Office website and a copy will be placed in the House Library.