A BBC investigation into the drug market has revealed that chemical labs in China frequently send legal highs into Scotland via courier services.
The investigation, implemented by BBC Scotland’s undercover team, involved communicating with a chemical company in China to request the purchase of Ethylphenidate.
One of the Chinese labs claimed that these substances would be parcelled as “birthday gifts”. Another one labelled the package as “printing ink filter”.
Legal highs, also known as new psychoactive substances (NPS), are chemical drugs or substances that have a similar effect as banned drugs such as cannabis or cocaine produce.
Although Ethylphenidate is currently classified as a legal high, it has been a subject of concern and debate as to whether it should be completely banned due to its detrimental effects.
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 does not apply to NPS and legal highs, as they are not considered to contain any illegal compounds.
However, lawmakers have pursued a temporary ban on substances such as Ethylphenidate and Clephedrone due to their nature and consequences. The blanket ban will be In effect from April.
Home Minister Mike Penning, who is expressly against NPS, is content with the fact that a legislation on the ban has been introduced and is on its second reading in the House of Commons.
He told the BBC, “A blanket will mean all these substances are illegal. We don’t have to pick on particular substances, all NPS will be illegal. They can tweak the formula as much as they like, they can spend as much money as they like on these scientists doing this, but they will be illegal.
“I will be damned if I am going to sit back and let so many people’s lives be destroyed when we know we are behind the curve.”
Currently, trading standards and legislation impose restrictions on selling legal highs to consumers. These restrictions stipulate that if the seller is aware that the consumer would consume the material as a legal high, he or she may not sell the substance.
Breaching these rules could mean a charge of culpable or reckless conduct.
A blanket ban by the UK on NPS has been under severe criticism due to its consequential effects. Experts say that the ban will push the industry underground and further into the hands of online sellers, such as the labs in China.
Detective Inspector Michael Miller, national drug co-ordinator for Police Scotland, admitted there were gaps within the current legislation.
Speaking to the BBC, he said: “It’s attractive to organised criminal gangs, there’s more money to be made, they perceive less risk, so criminal networks will get involved in this.”
The number of deaths in Scotland from the consumption of NPS has increased from 9, in 2009, to 114 in 2014.