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It’s only been a matter of days since the Psychoactive Substances Act received Royal Assent (on 28 January), yet its introduction has not dampened the enthusiasm for those either opposed to or in support of its introduction.  




It’s perhaps one of the most debated and complex pieces of legislation on illicit drug use in recent years. However, before we consider some of the wider implications, let’s just take a quick look at the Act, which applies to the whole of the UK and is expected to come into force on 6 April 2016.

After all, for those working in substance misuse and harm reduction within the criminal justice sector, there are considerable implications:

The Act:
  • makes it an offence to produce, supply, offer to supply, possess with intent to supply, possess on custodial premises, import or export psychoactive substances; that’s any substance that produces a psychoactive effect. The maximum sentence carries 7 years’ imprisonment.
  • crucially, it excludes foods, alcohol, tobacco, nicotine, caffeine, medical products as well as controlled drugs regulated by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
  • has heeded some of the concerns expressed by the scientific community by exempting scientific research from the offences.
  • provides powers to stop and search persons, vehicles and vessels, enter and search premises in accordance with a warrant, and seize and destroy psychoactive substances.
  • includes provision for civil sanctions (prohibition and premises notices) to facilitate a graded response from local authorities and the police. 

Not ‘a silver bullet’


Since we recruit substance misuse nurses and workers, we’ve been keeping an eye on the Act as it progressed towards Royal Assent. Certainly, earlier versions of the legislation faced stark criticism from the Advisory Council of the Misuse of Drugs with the view that the automatic classification of new drugs would create immense barriers to medical research. However, many of the issues appear to have been resolved, with the ‘legitimate need’ to use psychoactive substances for scientific research now being exempt from the ban. 

The Act itself though, as Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation says “is not the silver bullet” and that continued action is still needed with regards to education, prevention, treatment and recovery to reduce harm.  

Certainly, if the use of psychoactive substances is as wide a problem in prisons as recent reports have suggested, those substance misuse professionals working with offenders will almost certainly feel the impact of the Act, which makes it illegal to possess any psychoactive substance in a custodial setting. 

There is of course the broader issue of supply to consider too – it’s not simply a case of clamping down on head shops, but in policing the internet. We understand though, that the National Crime Agency is reportedly working closely with internet providers to crack down on those supplying psychoactive substances online. 

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