The number of police incidents involving ‘legal highs’ at West Yorkshire Police has increased 25-fold in just two years, according to new figures.
The force recorded 324 such incidents this year, compared to 13 in 2012.
The figures were revealed in Freedom of Information Act responses by the forces to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) think-tank, who say police should be given powers to close shops that persist in selling legal highs.
‘Legal highs’ contain one or more chemical substances which produce similar effects to illegal drugs like cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy but are not yet controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
According to CSJ, the number of people in treatment after taking ‘legal highs’ soared by 216 per cent in England in the last five years and the number of deaths associated with them has also risen sharply.
Of the 16 police forces that responded to the think-tank’s request, all have seen big increases in the number of incidents where the term ‘legal high’ was logged on their records.
In West Yorkshire no such incidents were reported in 2010, but there were four in 2011, 13 in 2012, 88 in 2013 and 324 in 2014.
In recent months West Yorkshire Police has stepped up its efforts to tackle what it describes as “the largely unregulated market in new psychoactive substances” as part of its Operation Nightshot.
During the summer search warrants were issued as part of a targeted operation in Wakefield, Bradford and Leeds to coincide with the reclassification of N-methylated 6-APB, commonly known as Benzofury, as an illegal Class B drug.
And last year market stall owner Hamayun Parwani, of Old Farm Cross, Leeds, was convicted over the sale of ‘legal highs’ in the first case of its kind in the country.
Senior CSJ researcher Rupert Oldham-Reid said: “It is too easy for people to walk into high street shops and buy these drugs – many of them as dangerous 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.”
A recent report by the Home Office called for a blanket ban on supply of legal highs.
Currently, when a legal high is outlawed, illegal-drug chemists are getting around the law by tweaking the chemical compound and creating a new substance.
The CSJ has called for police and courts to be given new powers to close ‘head shops’, of which there are around 250 in the UK, that sell many ‘legal high’ substances.
It wants the Government to implement legislation similar to a scheme run in Ireland.