FIGURES today reveal how Wearside teens are risking their lives taking legal highs packed with unknown chemicals.
Police in the city are receiving reports every month of people using the drugs but experts fear this is just the thin end of the wedge.
During the past 18 months, officers in the city have investigated 23 different cases of problems caused by those taking the over-the-counter tablets and powders.
“Highs” brought to the attention on police include those known as Magic Dragon, Clockwork Orange, Charlie Sheen, Black Mamba and Green Goblin.
The problem was highlighted earlier this year when four Wearsiders needed hospital treatment on the same day after taking the drugs. A 33-year-old man from Concord was taken to Sunderland Royal Hospital for observations, while a 14-year-old boy was admitted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Gateshead, from the Jubilee Square area of Washington.
Two boys, aged 16 and 14, were also taken to the QE on the same day after being found by police suffering ill effects from legal highs, again in the Jubilee Square area.
In all cases, Exodus or Exodus Blue is believed to have been taken. Although legal, the substance is sold as an incense to be burned, not consumed.
Today, a pharmaceutical expert from Sunderland University said little was known about the chemicals making up the drugs.
Dr John Lough, a reader in pharmaceutical analysis, said: “The problem is not only in the purity but also in the dose. If people choose to mix them with other drugs, then we simply don’t know what the effects would be.
“They may think what they are taking is safe but you only need a tiny change in the molecules to create something that has serious side effects.”
Police have made visits to schools in the hope of reinforcing the message about the dangers of legal highs. Some youngsters have been left vomiting blood after taking the drugs.
But there are still concerns that young people do not view the consuming of the drugs as seriously as Class As, like cocaine and Ecstasy.
Sunderland Superintendent Jim Napier, of Northumbria Police, said: “Our advice would always be to avoid using legal highs. These substances often contain potentially dangerous chemicals and just because the substance says it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s safe.
“Legal highs can have a devastating impact on a person’s health. Not only that, people can experience reduced inhibitions which may lead them into a situation they wouldn’t dream of entering into under normal circumstances.”