Legal-highs warning after worrying spike in hospital cases

Legal highs

Legal highs

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Emergency responders have today issued a warning after a worrying spike in the number of patients calling for emergency help as a result of ‘legal highs’ this week.

The North East Ambulance Service has had more than 40 calls in the past 72 hours to the 999 service, with symptoms ranging from seizures, unconsciousness, shortness of breath, vomiting, aggression, palpitations, agitation and foaming at the mouth.

Although the majority of the calls were for patients having had a legal high in the west end area of Newcastle, there is a concerning upward trend in the use of the psychoactive substances in the region.

An ambulance was sent to each incident to convey the patients to hospital. This has a significant impact on emergency services including ambulance services, hospitals and police.

Chief Inspector Dave Pickett said: "Using legal highs, in the way they are intended or otherwise, isn't safe and we would urge people to steer clear of them. They can kill or have a devastating impact on someone's health as they often contain potentially dangerous chemicals.

"As people become unwell from taking legal highs it then puts an additional strain on emergency services, so it has wider implications than just your health. Just because the substance says it's legal, doesn't mean it's safe and our advice would always be to avoid using legal highs."

Head of Resilience and Special Operations, Simon Swallow, said: "There have been a worrying number of calls for patients experiencing potential life-threatening symptoms as a result of taking legal highs from central Newcastle this week.

"These so-called legal highs are not safe to use and carry a serious health risk. The chemicals they contain have in most cases never been used before in drugs for human consumption and these incidents in Newcastle are putting people’s lives at risk."

Mr Swallow added: "We raised our operational status to 'severe pressure' in December as result of growing demand on the service during winter and these call-outs are putting an additional burden on our service by preventing us from being available to attend other life-threatening emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes.

"We are urging people NOT to take these so-called legal highs as they are putting their own lives in danger and also endangering the lives of others because these calls are potentially delaying our response to someone else who is suffering a heart attack or other life-threatening condition."

"Please think before you pick up the phone; do you really need to go to hospital and if you do, is there anyone else who can take you? Turning up to hospital in an ambulance does not mean you will be seen any quicker."

To find out more about legal highs, visit the Government national drug education service FRANK website or www.nhs.uk/Livewell/drugs/Pages/legalhighs.aspx.

The government announced new legislation in May 2015 that will ban the new generation of psychoactive drugs: www.gov.uk/government/collections/psychoactive-substances-bill-2015