Legal Highs Alert

Monday, 30 September, 2013

The National Poisons Information Service (NPIS), which is commissioned by
Public Health England (PHE), is a poisons advisory service for healthcare professionals working in the NHS in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The service’s annual review, which has been published, says that between April 2012 and March this year phone calls to experts about ‘legal highs’ went up 49%,
from 116 in 2011 to 2012 to 173 in 2012 to 2013, and searches for information on ‘legal highs’ on NPIS’ online database TOXBASE, climbed by 128%, from 1125 to 2561 in the same period.

Professor Simon Thomas, Director of NPIS’ Newcastle unit, said: Two years ago we reported that queries around treatments for mephedrone, an at-the-time
popular ‘legal high’ had tailed off after the government took steps to ban it. This year we’ve seen rises in queries about other ‘legal highs’. Many of these are variations on existing illegal substances. Although they may not be illegal to possess, users should not think this means they are safe for human use - far from it.”

This year’s review also confirmed an increase in calls about, and numbers of patients being treated for, carbon monoxide poisoning, from 248 in 2011 to 2012 to 434 in 2012 to 2013. Also throughout the year more than 50,000 calls were made to NPIS on a variety of topics and its online database TOXBASE was
used more than 1.6 million times.

The review also mentions that 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of NPIS and in 2012 to 2013, just as in 1963; accidental child poisonings in the home prompted
a large proportion of calls to the experts.

Professor Thomas, said: “In 1963 about two thirds of the phone calls made to NPIS concerned children exposed to various household products. In 2013 accidental poisonings of children in the home remain a significant concern, with almost 14,000 telephone enquiries received about children under 5, representing almost 30% of the calls we received.

“The way our service works has changed hugely over the last 50 years but what has not changed is our ability to be able to spot emerging trends and flag them
with the government, regulators, public health professionals and clinicians.
Although the way we deliver our service today is very different from when NPIS was set up 50 years ago, the focus of what we do providing expertise to frontline
doctors and nurses for the best possible treatment of patients is unchanged.”

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