I was pleased to hear recently that the shop selling ‘legal highs’ in our town centre was closing. The anti-social behaviour generated by users of these substances in and around the Arcade had a profound effect, putting off potential shoppers and frightening shop-keepers and residents.
However, I was deeply frustrated to learn that the owner of the shop has simply chosen to move to Sheffield Road rather than stop trading. This is not something we want in Barnsley, in the town centre or anywhere else. People should not have to put up with users of ‘legal highs’ vomiting, fitting and collapsing in their street. They should not have to put up with users’ anti-social behaviour making them feel unsafe in their own neighbourhood. They should not have to worry that their children can easily access these potentially lethal chemicals just around the corner from their homes.
I am determined to continue my work with residents, councillors, Trading Standards, the council and the local police force to make sure that ‘legal highs’ are not sold anywhere in our town.
I have spoken to the residents of the Sheffield Road area who are horrified that a shop selling ‘legal highs’ is trading in their neighbourhood. Over the last few years they have been working hard as a community to tackle anti-social behaviour locally. They are proud of where they live and do not want to see their hard work eroded by the kind of anti-social behaviour that the use of ‘legal highs’ generated in the town centre.
I will continue to campaign for a change in the law to help tackle this problem. Whilst the law may not currently recognise ‘legal highs’ as recreational drugs that need controlling, evidence increasingly shows that they are just that. A recent study by the Centre for Social Justice projected that the number of deaths in the UK linked to ‘legal-highs’ could overtake those linked to heroin by 2016.
It is vital therefore that we educate our children about these potentially lethal substances and make them aware that just because they’re legal, doesn’t mean that they are safe.
It’s time the government got a grip of this serious issue. Substance misuse is a blight on our communities – this is an undisputed fact. But unlike alcohol, which is regulated under the law and has to be clearly labelled in terms of its potency, ‘legal highs’ remain entirely unregulated. The fact that untested, unknown substances – the effects of which have yet to be discovered – are legal and readily accessible in our communities is totally unacceptable.
It’s time for the law to be changed to address ‘legal highs’. But new legislation takes time. For now we all need to work together in Barnsley to send a very clear and loud message to any one selling ‘legal highs’ in our town. We do not want you here.
This article was first published in the Barnsley Independent on 3rd September 2014.