Trading standards officers have issued a warning to shops that sell legal highs after new legislation to enforce against shops selling them started this week.

The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 will make it an offence to produce, supply or offer to supply any new psychoactive substance (NPS) if the substance is likely to be used for its psychoactive effects.

The act places an onus on sellers and producers of a substance to ensure it is not ‘likely’ to be consumed for its psychoactive effects.

Exemptions from the act are those substances already controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act, nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and medicinal products.

National statistics show that deaths related to NPS in England and Wales increased from 29 deaths in 2011 to 52 deaths in 2012 and 60 in 2013.

Locally, there has been an increasing number of hospitalisations due to misuse of NPS and the number of South Yorkshire Police incidents recorded as involving NPS has risen from six in 2011 to 465 in 2014.

Sheffield City Council has already taken proactive action to stop the sale of ‘legal highs’ in shops back in February 2015 with Operation Icarus.

Operation Icarus, a joint trading standards and South Yorkshire Police operation targeted the premises of known suppliers in the city.  Stocks of psychoactive substances were seized using Trading Standards powers under the General Product Safety Regulations 2005. The enforcement action proved very successful in halting the sale of these products from the businesses that were targeted.

Councillor Brian Lodge, cabinet member for the Environment said: “NPSs are labelled as ‘not for human consumption’ but they are designed to mimic the effects of controlled drugs.

“We welcome this new legislation and believe it will help to halt the worrying increase in cases involving these legal highs.

“Legal highs are a growing problem, both in South Yorkshire and nationally, and I am glad to see the council working with police and partners to crack down on retailers – and help people to tackle addictive and risky behaviour.

“There has also been large numbers of people becoming ill after using NPS, with an increasing number of people having to go to hospital, while evidence suggests these drugs are having detrimental and unpredictable effects on people’s actions, sometimes causing violent and erratic behaviour. We welcome this new legislation wholeheartedly.”

Following Operation Icarus, there has been ongoing enforcement action taken against any new suppliers of ‘legal highs’.  In particular, action was taken against HK Off Licence & Minimarket in Crookes, Sheffield.

As well as persistently supplying psychoactive substances the shop sold alcohol to children.  Trading Standards initiated an alcohol licence review and with supporting evidence from police and the Safeguarding Children Board succeeded in getting the shop’s alcohol licence revoked.  The shop has since closed.

The new NPS Act will both clarify which NPS is illegal to supply and the police and local authorities detailed powers to deal with offenders.

Sheffield has a long-established and innovative NPS multi agency working group that tackles the harm caused by NPS in the city.

The group has run public awareness campaigns to highlight the risks associated with the use of psychoactive substances, and have produced a range of appropriate education materials.  A new 2016 NPS strategy for Sheffield has been released and will continue the good work of the group and other agencies involved.

Useful numbers: The Corner (Young People’s Drug Service) 0114 2752051

SHSC Non Opiate Service 0114 2721481