Feature: How legal highs changed the lives of one gay couple

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As the Government moves to take action against legal highs, one gay couple have opened up about their battles with substances.

32-year-old Jon’s partner Lee, who is an engineer, has struggled with addiction to a number of legal highs, similar to mephedrone and amphetamines.

The pair are just one of many couples who have been affected by legal highs – with research showing they are increasingly prevalent on the gay club scene.

Jon told PinkNews: “I’ve been with my partner for 18 months. Just recently, he has been caught in the use of legal highs.

“It explained some parts of his behaviour I couldn’t really understand.”

Lee is receiving treatment for his addiction – but Jon says it has put strain on their relationship.

He said: “It really put a lot of stress on our relationship, from my point of view, mostly emotional but obviously he has faced many challenges too.

“I was more concerned about his behaviour… it really hits you because you feel excluded from someone’s life, because their behaviour is so erratic.

“I struggled to find a rational explanation. It’s really difficult to cope with.”

He continued: “There’s the psychoactive aspect that can lead to mental illness too – you don’t know how much tolerance someone can have to a given substance. Lee has had some side effects.

“Unfortunately, the gay community has a bigger issue with abuse of drugs.”

The pair feel that there has been a lack of acknowledgement about the dangers of legal highs – and a lack of willingness to take the problem seriously.

Jon continued: “Even six months ago, the usual support channels, the charities were kind of acknowledging the risks, but as a side note. It was very low profile with regard to legal highs.

“People think it’s like a light version of cocaine or heroin… there’s not really much information available.

“There’s a big health concern as you’re never sure what’s inside what you’re taking and how it affects the body. If you have a reaction, you’re never sure what might happen to you.

“We’ve tried different approaches and used clinics in Soho to seek help. Now we’ve found a local clinic which provides counselling for addiction and Lee has been doing well.”

The Government has moved several measures to tackle the problem of legal highs – including a general ban to clamp down on suppliers, instead of a substance-by-substance approach.

Jeremy Sare, Director for Government Affairs and Communications at the Angelus Foundation, said: “The main issue around these new drugs used to be the risk of accidental overdose but increasingly we are seeing higher rates of problematic use and addiction.

“It can be very hard to access treatment; many GPs are still in the dark about how harmful these substances can be. There needs to be more education, at every level, about these new substances.”

Crime Prevention Minister Lynne Featherstone said: “So-called ‘legal highs’ have ruined lives and caused a number of deaths, and the government is determined to clamp down on the head shops and suppliers involved in this reckless trade.

“We have already banned more than 500 new psychoactive substances (NPS), created the Forensic Early Warning System to identify new drugs and we support law enforcement action by sharing the latest intelligence with them.

“The Coalition Government has taken the lead in tackling new psychoactive substances, or so-called ‘legal highs’, both in this country and internationally.”

Continuing, Ms Featherstone said: “We are also developing proposals for a general ban on the supply of ‘legal highs’ across the UK. This would give law enforcement greater powers to tackle the NPS trade as a whole, instead of a substance-by-substance approach.

“I will be working right up until the dissolution of Parliament to ensure we have done as much as we possibly can to pave the way for a general ban. This will mean the next government can act quickly to clamp down on this reckless trade.”

Commander Simon Bray, National Policing Lead for New Psychoactive Substances, said: “The Government’s decision to develop proposals for a blanket ban on new psychoactive substances (NPS) is a very positive step forward.

“It highlights the government’s commitment to supporting law enforcement, including the police, in their efforts to combat dangerous drugs.

“A blanket ban would make it simpler to deal with those drugs, which are unsafe but which may not yet be controlled. It will also make it easier to tackle so-called ‘legal highs’ which may contain mixtures including already illegal drugs.

“We are also encouraged by further prevention and education measures which have been proposed, as NPS cannot be addressed by law enforcement alone.”