Legal high use in Manchester is set to be officially researched for the first time, by Manchester Metropolitan University.
Numerous media outlets have highlighted the growing problem with use of the drugs – officially known as New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) – with it seemingly proving popular amongst the homeless community and other vulnerable demographics.
The drugs are produced synthetically to replicate illegal substances such as cannabis, but can in many cases be as much as 100 times stronger, and may cause substantial mental health problems.
Leading the case are Senior Lecturers in Criminology Dr Rob Ralphs and Dr Paul Gray, and they will be using an online survey and interviews with NSP users to establish the drugs’ prevalence in the city, commissioned by Manchester City Council.
“There is a lot of talk about NPS use in the media, yet we are still not seeing huge numbers coming through treatment services,” Dr Ralphs said.
“The extent of the problem is currently unknown, both nationally and locally.
“The research will help to establish the scale of NPS use, the types of people that use NPS, and the effects of use on both individuals and services.”
The drugs are freely available over the counter at ‘head shops’, which have traditionally been known for selling cannabis paraphernalia such as bongs.
And the research comes ahead of the New Psychoactive Substance Bill, which is expected to be passed by Parliament in April, and will significantly limit the availability of legal highs in the country, potentially forcing them underground.
“We are particularly interested in finding out what specific legal highs are being used in Manchester, and by whom,” Dr Gay added.
“There have been over 500 new psychoactive substances identified in the last five years by the EU Early Warning System, but it is still unclear how many of these are filtering through locally to users in Manchester.
“It’s really important that we achieve a good response to the survey.
“We’re hoping that the survey will be completed by thousands of people across Manchester. We are equally interested in the views of non-users as well as users of NPS.”
A documentary by VICE revealed the issues homeless people were facing with the drug in Manchester, with many claiming it to be as addictive as heroin.
Homeless Link, the national membership organisation for homelessness charities, has been working with homeless organisations in Manchester to help find a solution to the legal highs problem.
“Our own recent research with day centres in Manchester shows NPS is used by a significant percentage of people who sleep rough,” Gavin Benn, Homeless Link spokesperson said.
“Users identify NPS as having a significant impact on their housing situation, physical health and relationships.
“So we welcome this larger study which should help build a clearer picture of use and harm, as well as help shape the response.”
To take part in the survey, click here.
Image courtesy of the United States Marine Corps, via Wikipedia, with thanks