Concern raised over 'legal high' call outs

More than 40 calls to ambulance service in 72 hours

North East Ambulance Service is issuing a warning today after a concerning spike in the number of patients calling for emergency help as a result of ‘legal highs’ this week.

Over the past 72 hours more than 40 calls to the 999 service have been made, with symptoms ranging from seizures, unconsciousness, shortness of breath, vomiting, aggression, palpitations, agitation and foaming at the mouth.

A majority of the calls were for patients in the west end area of Newcastle and on each occasion callers have reported the patients having had a legal high.

An ambulance was sent to each incident to convey the patients to hospital. 

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.”

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."

Professor Eugene Milne, Newcastle’s Director of Public Health, said: “There are many dangers posed by novel psychoactive substances (so called ‘legal highs’).

"It’s important everyone understands the risks involved in taking these substances. They are dangerous when mixed with other substances, such as alcohol or medication and we don’t know what they contain nor how strong they are.

"We’re working closely with Northumbria Police and Newcastle City Council regulatory services to tackle the sale of these substances across the city and welcome the government legislation to ban such sales in 2016, through the impending Psychoactive Substances Bill.

"In the meantime, we are working with a range of partners, including drug, alcohol and other support services, to raise awareness of the dangers of substances that aren’t always legal and never safe and have issued a joint drugs warning relating to this incident”

If you or anyone you know are affected, contact Lifeline Newcastle on 0191 261 5610

For under 18s DnA Young People’s Service - 0191 2777377

For families or carers PROPs - 0191 2263440

To find out more about legal highs, visit the FRANK website or http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/drugs/Pages/legalhighs.aspx. Or www.hiwecanhelp.com

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

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