Tackling ‘legal highs’ on the streets of Derry

The stories of young people who used legal highs were told by actors in the film.

The stories of young people who used legal highs were told by actors in the film.

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A local youth organisation has made a short film to educate young people on the dangers of using so-called legal highs.

The Youth Outreach Programme decided to tackle the problem head on after a public meeting in Derry in December.

“We knew the issue of legal highs was a city wide problem and we had to try and do something,” said Youth Outreach Programme Co-ordinator, John Devine.

“A lot came out of the public meeting back in December. We got the impression that so-called legal highs were finding their way into virtually every strand of society in Derry,” he added.

The film is titled ‘An Insight Into Legal Highs In Derry’ and is told from three different viewpoints; a grieving mother whose son died as a result of taking legal highs; young people aged between 14 and 18 who have taken legal highs and two Police Service of Northern Ireland (P.S.N.I.) officers.

‘An Insight Into Legal Highs In Derry’ was directed and produced by Alessio Zanin.

Pictured from left to right, John Devine (Co-ordinator - Youth Outreach Programme), Dermot Harrigan (P.C.S.P.) Alessio Zanin (Director) and Eric McGinley (Sinn Fein Councillor).

Pictured from left to right, John Devine (Co-ordinator - Youth Outreach Programme), Dermot Harrigan (P.C.S.P.) Alessio Zanin (Director) and Eric McGinley (Sinn Fein Councillor).

“The whole point of the video is to educate young people and their parents on the truly horrific side effects of legal highs,” said Alessio.

“Just because a substance is not illegal does not mean that the substance is safe.

“Some of the stories we heard during the making of the film were shocking. We heard that at least one nine year-old child was taking legal highs.”

The Youth Outreach Programme treated the testimonies given by the young people with sensitivity and their stories are told by actors in the film.

I ended up in Gransha and managed to stay off the drug for 11 weeks but I am back on it now - it has ruined my life and I am not even 20 years-old yet

Anonymous young person from Derry

“I was eight years-old when I started smoking ‘Herbal’ [a form of synthetic cannabis],” admitted one 18 year-old.

“I ended up in Gransha and managed to stay off the drug for 11 weeks but I am back on it now - it has ruined my life and I am not even 20 years-old yet.”

John believes the best way to tackle the issue is through education.

“We need to give young people the information and enable them to make better and more responsible choices - it’s up to us all to try and tackle what is becoming a very dangerous problem in our city.

“Many of the young people who worked on the film have since given up legal highs. One of the young people relapsed and one of them never came off legal highs. It was through education that many of these young people came off the drugs so if we can spread this message then perhaps it will help more young people in Derry to come off legal highs.”

John also revealed the reality of the problem from a law and order perspective.

“Two members of the P.S.N.I. took part in the film and they told us that finding young people in a confused state on the streets of Derry is more or less a weekly occurrence.

“One of the most shocking things we heard is that legal highs can result in young people having suicidal thoughts even when they have had no history of depression or anxiety.”

‘An Insight Into Legal Highs In Derry’ was funded by the Police and Community Safety Partnership (P.C.S.P.).

If you or anyone you know has been affected by so called legal highs please contact Talk to Frank on 0300 123 6600 or Lifeline on 0808 808 8000