School-aged Wigan youngsters are risking their lives by obtaining illegal highs on the internet.
Police say they are concerned that children can easily obtain these unregulated substances which could do them serious harm.
It really is quite frightening. I have seen youngsters in the town centre on a Friday or Saturday night and they are completely out of it
Wigan town centre businesses and witnesses have reported seeing teenagers as young as 14 clearly under the influence of some kind of drugs.
And while some have suggested that they have taken cocaine, police say it is far likelier that they have taken what until recently were known as legal highs because they are relatively cheap and can be bought online. Although now outlawed in the UK with many “head shops” closing or banning their sale on the high street, they are still simple to get hold of online.
Wigan’s divisional chief inspector Glenn Jones said that quite a lot of reports of erratic behaviour among children is coming through from school-based police officers.
One local headteacher today admitted that his high school had had problems with legal highs, one episode ending in the exclusion of a pupil who was selling the then legal but still dangerous substances to classmates.
The Wigan Observer was initially contacted by a town centre businessman, who did not wish to be identified, highlighting the problem.
He said: “It really is quite frightening. I have seen youngsters in the town centre on a Friday or Saturday night and they are completely out of it.
“It’s not liquor, it’s got to be some kind of illegal substance like cocaine. Some of the youngsters I’ve seen are in their very early teens indeed and you wonder where they are getting this stuff from.
“There must be medical dangers.”
Chief Insp Jones said: “I am not aware of any particular cocaine problems involving minors in Wigan. For people so young to take cocaine is quite a ‘step up’ and the expense would probably be a prohibitive factor too.
“However there have been issues with illegal highs. I am not saying Wigan has a particularly bad problem any more than any other major towns or cities but there have been cases and that’s because these substances are relatively cheap and can be obtained on the internet.”
He said that there had also been problems in the region with a form of lighter fluid found in condensed gas bottles. Inhalation by breaking the seal starves the brain of oxygen and can produce a form of high found from auto-asphyxiation. It is also extremely dangerous and can lead to people collapsing and even choking on their tongue.
Mr Jones said that while co-opted onto policing the Parklife festival in Manchester they caught a man trying to climb over a fence with a case containing 500 of these canisters which he had intended to sell to revellers.
He said: “Our partnership team is working with the local authority and trading standards on such matters. Since the change in legislation the use of these once legal substances has not been as prevalent but there is still internet availability.
“They have also been an issue in schools in the past but we have school-based officers and an education programme in place. The officers pick up intelligence that children are using illegal highs but fortnuately there have not been any critical incidents lately - which is when we most often become alerted to the issue.”
Statistics on how wide a problem with “novel psychoactive substances” there is in the borough are hard to come by. At present figures for youngsters presenting at Wigan A&E with signs of substance abuse do not break down the types of drugs they have taken.
The borough headteacher said that he was pleased to say that there had not been any issues of late.
But he added: “These substances have been an issue before. A couple of years ago one lad was buying these then legal highs off the internet and sharing them with his little group of friends. That was causing a problem.
“It was causing lateness because they were doing it on the way to school and it also made them irritable and restless so they could not concentrate in class for long periods. This then disrupted lessons for other pupils.
“In the end the boy was excluded and went to a pupil referral unit. We did involve the school-based officer and the local police too.”
The head said that everyone in the school system had to be aware of such problems arising again.
He added: “If you see any of the pupils behaving strangely then you report it to the pastoral teams and it can be picked up quickly.
“We all need to know the signs and symptoms so that a problem with these substances can be picked up on at an early stage.”