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Warning over legal highs as health report highlights issues
A NEW campaign will warn about ‘legal highs’ amid concerns from the county’s director of public health.
Oxfordshire County Council is to launch a social media campaign about psychoactive drugs, mostly bought online.
County director of public health Dr Jonathan McWilliam today warns of the “new threat” posed by the drugs in his annual report.
Such substances are wrongly called ‘legal highs’ as users “have no idea” what is in them, according to the council.
They can contain illegal drugs, are not tested or covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act, and often do not reflect the compounds given on the label.
Legal highs are usually powders, pills or capsules and stimulate high levels or energy or a sedated feeling or hallucinations.
The Twitter and Facebook campaign will be aimed at ages 16 to 24, their parents and health workers, to emphasise that ‘legal’ does not mean ‘safe’.
It will also warn users do not know what the drugs contain and will direct people to council advice and the ‘Talk to Frank’ government advice service.
A “clean” graffiti campaign – where templates are cleaned on dirty walls and pavements to form a message – and a competition are also being considered.
- Dr Jonathan McWilliam
Dr Jonathan McWilliam said: “They are really the new challenge in the drug world. It is something we need to get more eyes open to in this county.
“It depends what they are legal for, they are sometimes legal for one purpose but they are used for another.
“When they are called legal they might be legal for treating perhaps animals, veterinary care, but if a human being takes them, they have poor health consequences.”
His report said Oxfordshire is “one of the few counties” where council trading standards are working with police in “meeting the challenging and new threat”.
Dr McWilliam said: “Legal highs come into the county, we need to get good intelligence about where, when, what types.”
Council spokesman Marcus Mabberley said it is looking to give “advice and guidance” to businesses and to test products sold.
Chief executive of Yarnton residential drug rehabilitation charity the Ley Community, Wendy Dawson, welcomed the move.
She said: “I am very concerned. It is a massive problem, an increasing problem. People are sitting behind a computer scoring.
“We absolutely need to improve our knowledge base and education and not just for schoolchildren but adults as well.
“There is so little knowledge about it. Because it is pre-fixed with legal, people think it must be safe and that is the message we have to get through, that because it says legal high it is actually very dangerous.”
The charity is seeing people who have taken the drugs and other legal substances like ketamine, an anaesthetic used on animals.
Ms Dawson said: “When people go to A&E or rehabilitation they don’t know what they have taken. That can be extremely difficult.”
Council head of commissioning for drugs and alcohol Jo Melling said: “We are only aware of a handful of shops in Oxfordshire who sell these products but we do know that they are not always sold openly.
“They may not be on display and they are, we believe, being sold in less obvious places like off-licences and corner shops.
“If people know of places like this, we’d be grateful of an email or phone call to let us know so that we can look into it.”
Dr McWilliam’s public health report also highlighted progress on issues like smoking, child obesity, teenage pregnancies, breastfeeding and school health nurses.
The Oxford Mail yesterday revealed how longer lifespans are putting increased pressure on services.
When the NHS was founded in 1948, some 48 per cent of county residents died before the age of 65 but that is now 14 per cent.
Men now live to about 84 and women 87.
Email the council via oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/content/contact-trading-standards or call 08454 04 05 06.
OXFORDSHIRE County Council said two packets we bought from RedEye, off East Oxford’s Cowley Road, are similar to substances it has concerns about.
When the Oxford Mail’s Hannah Bewley went into the Marston Road shop and asked if it sold “herbal highs” she was told to read a notice on a case of packets. This was headed the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and explained that the law forbids some substances being sold for human consumption.
We bought two of the packets,
Psy-clone and Rapture, at £10 each for a gram. It is not illegal to buy or sell these products.
We called the shop to inquire about these and the man who answered would not give his name, but said: “These are absolutely not for human consumption. They are to be used as similar to potpourri or like an incense.”
Asked what they would do if a customer sought ‘legal highs’, he said: “I would simply say we don’t sell them.”
Council head of commissioning for drugs and alcohol Jo Melling said: “It is difficult to be certain whether the products purchased by the Oxford Mail are new psychoactive substances or (legal highs) simply by looking at the packaging. When our colleagues in the Trading Standards team examine these items they will consider how the items are marketed and the substance itself will be analysed.
“However, the design of the packaging and the names given to the products certainly look similar to items we would have concerns about and our message remains the same. Just because it’s on sale, it doesn’t make it safe.”
THE cost to society in Oxfordshire from smoking amounts to about £150m a year, Dr McWilliam said.
Most cash, £44.6m, is the loss to firms from early death while £31.5m is lost to smoking breaks, he estimates.
A further £29.4m is spent in the NHS helping smokers, while £27.2m is lost in sick days and £7.8m to early death from passive smoking.
Domestic fires cost £5.5m and even litter from smoking puts back the public purse £3.7m, he said.
About 15 per cent of county residents smoke compared to 19 per cent in England.
Dr McWilliam said: “The benefits of stopping, or not starting in the first place, are still not being realised universally across the population.”
He said the “least well-off” are twice as likely to smoke as the most affluent, with 30 per cent of manual workers sparking up compared to 14 per cent of professionals.
He said: “Studies consistently show that the largest influence on children’s smoking is whether or not their parents smoke.
“Reducing the prevalence of adult smokers will reduce the role-modelling effect, and prevent more young people from taking up the habit.”
IN this day and age, a fall of 0.6 percentage points in the rate of the county’s obese children is a cause of celebration.
Children are weighed in school and 2012/13, the latest figures, were the lowest ever recorded for obese schoolchildren.
In reception year for four to five-year-olds, obesity fell from seven to 6.4 per cent, lower than the England average of 9.4 per cent.
This fell from 15.6 per cent to 15.2 per cent in Year 6 of 10 to 11-year-olds, compared to 18.9 per cent nationally.
In England, these two year groups were 9.9 per cent and 17.5 per cent in 2006/07, when the programme began.
Dr McWilliam said: “We have more sedentary lifestyles, we have more easily available unhealthy food.
“All the way society is going for adults and children it is easier to be fatter than to be thinner.”
He said: “It was a really good surprise and a shot in the arm to see these figures coming down.
“If we can prevent obesity before it starts so much the better and there is no better place to start than in childhood.”
PREGNANCIES among 15- to 17-year-olds fell to their lowest rate since records began in 1998, the report says.
In 1998 there were 31 pregnancies per 1,000 in this age group but this fell to 21 per 100,000 in 2013.
Dr McWilliam said: “That is the fruit of 10 years work on the subject.
“We have had very good campaigns in this county, very good joined-up work.
“I think the message finally gets home. Public health initiatives take a long time.”
- Community midwife Jan Kipling
DR McWilliam said it is a “good achievement” that 60 per cent of mums across Oxfordshire are breastfeeding at six to eight weeks compared to about 47 per cent in England.
Yet he said while Oxford is around 60 per cent, Cherwell has been in the low 50 per cent range since 2007.
Health service guidance says breastfed babies have less chance of diarrhoea and vomiting and have fewer chest and ear infections.
They also have less likelihood of becoming obese and developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
He said: “Data from the general practices with the most disadvantaged populations have lower rates.
“This is an important inequality which casts ‘long shadows forward’ throughout life. In addition the rates have peaked at around 60 per cent for some years.”
Community midwife Jan Kipling, who works out of Wallingford Community Hospital, said: “There are lots of barriers.
“A lot of the reasons are down to not just the mother’s own decisions, but also the views of the family, mainly their partner and mother.
“If their mother has breastfed they will be supportive, if not they may not understand the benefits.”
CHILDREN’S health stands to greatly benefit from the April 1 introduction of a school nurse in every secondary school, Dr McWilliam said.
The council began a contract with Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust to “redefine the concept of school nurses”.
He said: “School health nurses are crucial.
“They work with schools to promote better health, help children with physical and psychological difficulties and play a key role in safeguarding.
“They also immunise young people in school and carry out the weight checks in reception year and Year 6, which have proved so valuable in combatting the epidemic of obesity.”
He added: “This gives us the potential to improve the health of every child in the county. The service is proving to be an exemplar for other local authorities.”
One role nurses can play is to support young people who care for siblings or parents, said cabinet member for public health and the voluntary sector Hilary Hibbert-Biles.
The Conservative said: “They key is to identify the young carers. The school health nurses will be able to identify more readily within the schools.”
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