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Legal high users call 999

November 01 2015
Paramedics dealing with a surge of unknown drugs of unknown toxicity

A senior paramedic has warned that ambulance services are being called to deal with a “surge” of emergencies faced by people after taking legal highs.

Sarah Harrison told the BBC that ambulance drivers were often unable to treat them adequately because they had no idea what they had taken.

Harrison, an advanced paramedic for North West Ambulance Service, said emergency services were struggling to cope with the need to treat those falling ill after taking legal highs, officially classed as new psychoactive substances (NPS).

She said: “We have no drugs that counteract the effects of the substances that people are taking. “A lot of the time we are not aware what substance they have taken and what combination, or even what the substance is because they come with different names and different street names.

"So we are having to just deal with the medical effects and treat the patient at the time.”

In October, a BBC investigation discovered some products did not contain the precise ingredients listed on their packaging. BBC Inside Out North West asked biochemists from Liverpool John Moores University to analyse five separate brands of legal high, marketed as Ching, Cherry Bomb, Pandora’s Box Unleashed, Gogaine and Exodus Damnation.In three of the products, they discovered a mismatch between the ingredients listed on the packet, and the contents of the substance.

Legal highs are increasingly used by the homeless population, in part due to their availability and low cost. One support worker working at a homeless day centre said: “We are working on the frontline and we see the devastation legal highs cause. People are just wasting away mentally and physically.”

Meanwhile, Naloxone, the drug used to treat heroin overdoses, is to become available without prescription to homelessness services. Public Health England has announced legislative changes after heroin and morphine deaths rise in the UK by two-thirds in the past two years. The drug may now be used by registered hostels.