Deaths linked to legal highs could surpass those related to heroin use within just two years, according to a new report by a think-tank.
The Centre for Social Justice is to release a report this week calling for more to be done to combat the drugs, known as New Psychoactive Substances, while also calling for a “treatment tax” on alcohol.
“Addiction rips into families, makes communities less safe and entrenches poverty”
Legal highs were linked to 97 deaths in 2012 and hospital admissions rose by 56% between 2009-12, according to new centre’s data.
The think-tank estimates that on current trends deaths related to legal highs could be higher than heroin by 2016 – at around 400 deaths a year.
Drugs such as meow meow and Benzo Fury have been outlawed by the government but other substances, such as alpha-methyltryptamine (AMT) are still legal and new drugs flood the market quicker than they can be banned.
The Centre for Social Justice is asking police to adopt a similar policy to one used in Ireland, to close so-called “head-shops” which sell NPS, of which they estimate there are around 250 in the UK.
In addition, the report will brand the government’s prevention programme FRANK “shamefully inadequate”.
Meanwhile, the think-tank calls for a “treatment tax” to be added to off-licence alcohol sales to fund rehabilitation for people with drug and alcohol addictions, with a penny per unit levy funding recovery services costing £1.1bn in the next five years.
“Addiction rips into families, makes communities less safe and entrenches poverty,” said the centre’s director Christian Guy.
“For years full recovery has been the preserve of the wealthy – closed off to the poorest people and to those with problems who need to rely on a public system,” he said. “We want to break this injustice wide open.”
The Ambitious for Recovery report says 300,000 people in England are addicted to opiates or crack, 1.6 million are dependent on alcohol and one in seven children under the age of one live with a substance-abusing parent.
Every year drugs cost society around £15bn and alcohol £21bn, researchers say, while the current system is too focused on managing addicts instead of weaning them off substances.
And addicts who refuse to deal with their issues could be docked welfare payments, although the CSJ proposes a “welfare card” to protect their families so that a proportion of benefits would have to be spent on food, clothing and travel.
The scheme would apply to parents dependent on alcohol or drugs who refuse treatment, while not having been in work for a year or more.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We are not considering a tax on particular drinks.
“Instead, we are reducing alcohol harm by giving local authorities a £5.4bn budget to help them manage public health issues including alcohol and drug services. We have also banned sales oft the cheapest cut price alcohol.”