The mothers of two young men from Derry and Donegal who lost their lives in separate tragedies associated with legal highs, have said they are delighted that a blanket ban has been introduced in Northern Ireland.
Colette Quigley from Galliagh and Karen Vandersypen from Letterkenny were speaking after new UK-wide laws were introduced yesterday which made it illegal to produce, distribute, sell and supply legal highs.
Andrew Quigley died by suicide in January 2014.
The 19-year-old had been battling addiction in the years leading up to his death.
His family had tried on numerous occasions to get help for Andrew, and after his death joined others at the helm of a campaign for crisis intervention and detox services, while also campaigning for a ban on legal highs.
Speaking after the ban was introduced yesterday, Ms Quigley said: “It has been a long time waiting for this and I am delighted. If this stuff is not available in the shops hopefully it will prevent children, besides those already addicted, being tempted by it.
“These substances are highly addictive and you don’t know what’s in it. They were too handy; too readily available. Children have no fear in them, they are not afraid to try stuff. It’s seen as a bit of craic; a bit of fun, but unfortunately the bit of fun doesn’t end up being a bit of fun at all.
“It’s not just the person taking it, the whole family is affected. Their behaviour changes and it changes them as a person. It is so hard to watch the damage.”
Ms Quigley said she had never heard tell of legal highs - often sold over the counter in ‘head shops’ and packaged as plant food or bath salts- before her own son’s horrific experience. “I can’t believe how many people are affected by this,” she said. “It’s rampant here and it affects every part of society.”
Ms Quigley added that she remained concerned for the young people already addicted and who will still try to get their hands on such psychoactive substances.
Calling for better crisis and detox services as well as more training for professionals, Ms Quigley said: “Detox is still needed. We are still hearing of people being taken off the bridge. It is highs and lows with this stuff, there is no in-between. Whenever you are watching your children suffer and you can’t help them, you can’t reach them, you need a professional person to intervene.”
Ms Vandersypen’s son Jimmy Guichard (20), died in October 2013 after he took a reaction to a £3.50 bag of so called ‘legal cannabis’ purchased in a head shop during a visit to Kent. The young Letterkenny man was found after suffering a massive heart attack and was left brain dead. His life support machine was switched off a day later.
Since then, his mother has campaigned tirelessly for the law to the changed in the UK. With a ban already introduced in the Republic several years ago, there were reports of young people from Donegal and along the border travelling to the North to access legal highs.
“We are glad that the ban has finally come into play,” she said. “Obviously it is going to make it a lot harder for people to get hold of this stuff. It was too easily accessible. Most kids get a fiver pocket money now anyway and they would have quite easily have been able to afford it.
“I’ve said to Colette, it’s just a shame we had to pay such a high price ourselves for this to happen. That’s what gave us the fight to get this ban.”
Those found guilty of breaking the new laws can now be jailed for up to seven years as a result of the Psychoactive Substances Act. Police now also have new powers to shut down head shops.