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Guidance for local authorities on taking action against ‘head shops’ selling new psychoactive substances - working with local partners.

1. New psychoactive substances, also known as ‘legal highs’, are an emerging threat, both in the UK and worldwide. New psychoactive substances are drugs, of which the majority are not currently controlled under the UK’s Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, but which mimic the effects of illegal drugs. Their effects on humans are often unknown, with a number of cases causing paranoia, psychosis, seizures, hospitalisation and death after ingestion. New psychoactive substances are generally sold online, on the high street in ‘head shops’, and there are some reports of them being sold in outlets such as newsagents, petrol stations, sex shops and market stalls.

2. A number of local authorities have expressed concern that head shops in their areas are causing increases in anti-social behaviour and health problems. It is commonly believed that because the products sold in these outlets are (mostly) not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, there is nothing that local authorities or law enforcement can do to disrupt head shops and minimise the damage they cause. While there is no simple solution to this issue, there are options for local partners to work together to tackle problems posed by new psychoactive substances. This paper aims to detail the main legal powers available for dealing with head shops. There is no one single agency with the definitive responsibility or tools to tackle this issue. Partnership working will therefore be essential to establishing the best approach to address unique local circumstances.

3. While this paper focuses on the criminal or civil offences that head shops may be committing, it is also important to remember that minimising the harms caused by these outlets requires wider engagement with local partners. The precise nature of this approach will differ depending on the issues caused by particular shops, but could include local community youth groups working to engage young people in alternative activities, schools acting to detect and prevent the use of new psychoactive substances on their premises, and addiction services working with the most problematic users to address the causes of their behaviour. If head shops are a cause for concern in your area, it is advisable to engage with all the relevant partners to identify the issues of most concern, agree the most appropriate tools to tackle the unique local situation and construct a coordinated response. Much of this response may already be incorporated into measures tackling the misuse of more established drugs, and it will be worth considering how your approach to new psychoactive substances can compliment existing work in this area. Public Health England have launched a toolkit to support local areas’ response to tackling NPS. The NPS toolkit provides information for substance misuse commissioners on prevention, monitoring and information sharing, responses to acute problems and treatment interventions (

4. Further information about case studies found in this paper including contact details of either trading standards officers or police officers, can be found in the Local Government Trading Standards section of the KnowledgeHub website ( ).

5. This updates the guidance issued in December 2013.