A pioneering new research project which aims to map the impact of so-called ‘legal highs’ launched throughout Denbighshire in May.
The COMS project – run by charity CAIS in partnership with Denbighshire County Council and Hafal – will also provide a dedicated and confidential support service for people using novel psychoactive substances (NPS) in the county.
The long-term social and health effects of the drugs are unclear and unproven, but even short-term use has been shown to cause depression, anxiety and psychosis, and place major strain on the heart and nervous system.
The new study aims to understand the impact of the substances on people’s lives in Denbighshire, and will help to improve the effectiveness of services on offer for those who want help to tackle their NPS use.
It’s hoped that the research-led support project – believed to be the first of its kind to be conducted in Wales – will ultimately contribute to peer-reviewed academic work.
COMS project manager Jeff Hughes said the name ‘legal highs’ made the substances seem less threatening than they really are.
“The fact is, people who use NPS can’t even be sure what chemicals they are using or what effect they might have – especially alongside other drugs or alcohol” he said.
“We don’t know what’s in them, and therefore we can’t fully understand the impact they can have on people or what their longer-term effects could be.
“We’d like to encourage people who use NPS, or who are worried about someone else’s use of NPS, to get in touch with one of our workers. They have the expertise and experience to provide the right help at the right time and in total confidence.”
Unlike more established drugs, the chemical make-up of NPS is not consistent. Testing has revealed their structure can vary wildly between batches, with users often completely unaware of the actual active substance they are taking.
Their ever-changing chemical structure can make it difficult for medics and others to treat and support people who need help to confront or control their NPS use.
Brightly-coloured packaging is often marked ‘NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION’, with substances badged as ‘bath salts’ or ‘plant food’ widely available for sale in ‘headshops’ and online.
New laws to stop the trade in NPS came into force earlier this summer, but there have been worries that the ban will force the substances underground and onto the black market. Anecdotal evidence suggests the drugs are being stockpiled in some areas ahead of the measures coming into force.
CAIS chief executive Clive Wolfendale said the COMS initiative would generate greater insight into the issue in Denbighshire.
“The COMS project will give us a deeper understanding of the social impact of these drugs – the effect they have had on people’s mental and physical health, families, wellbeing and quality of life – and uncover how widespread and prevalent they are across Denbighshire,” he said.
“CAIS is pleased to be working alongside Hafal and Denbighshire County Council on this innovative project, which will enable us to develop a research-led suite of support and inform and influence public policy in this area.”
For more details about the COMS project, or to talk about the support available for you or a loved one contact Sallie on 07710 837 651, Dave on 07887 573 524, or email COMS@cais.org.uk.