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A law banning psychoactive substances has been hailed a success by the Home Office six months after it came into force. 

Figures show that almost 500 people have been arrested since the Psychoactive Substances Act became law on May 26 2016. The bill was passed in response to the prevalence of so-called legal highs, which were involved in 204 deaths in the UK in 2015. 

Of those arrested, four have since been sent to prison. Amongst these is a 29-year-old male who received a 42-month sentence for possession with intent to supply after he was caught with nitrous oxide at a festival. Other cases are currently in the hands of the criminal justice system. 

In addition, 332 shops in the UK have been stopped from selling these substances.  

Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism Sarah Newton
said: “I am pleased to see the police making full use of the new powers, arresting dealers and ensuring they are punished with prison sentences which reflect the seriousness of this crime.

“At the same time as supporting law enforcement in tackling the supply of illegal drugs, we are also taking action to prevent the harms caused by their use – from educating young people about the risks to helping dependent individuals through treatment.”

Offenders can receive custodial sentences of up to seven years for the production, import and export, supply, and possession with intent to supply these psychoactive substances. 
The act also prohibits those in custodial institutions from possessing them. However, individuals found with legal highs outside of such environments cannot be prosecuted, unless it can be proved that they intended to supply them to others. 

According to Commander Simon Bray, the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Psychoactive Substances (NPS), the act has “fundamentally changed the way the police tackle the supply and distribution of these dangerous drugs”. 

“Across the country, officers are using the full range of powers to enforce the law and the (latest) figures released highlight their commitment to reducing the availability of these harmful substances.

“I am confident that together, with education, local authorities and other enforcement agencies, we can continue to disrupt the supply and accessibility of these drugs and prevent the damage they can cause.”

It’s not quite so straight-forward within prisons themselves though, where grave concerns still remain about the impact of the NPS within the prison estate, despite the introduction of the blanket ban. 

In September, The Independent reported The Prisons Ombudsman, Nigel Newcomen, as admitting to how the authorities are struggling to deal with the NPS trade in prisons, which was further compounded by a number of prison riots at the end of last year. His admission came just days after Justice Secretary Liz Truss announced a nationwide programme of “pioneering new tests” for legal highs within the secure estate, which she said would give staff “more powers to stem the flow of these appalling new drugs”. This approach has not been without criticism though, as the Howard League for Penal Reform, responded by calling Truss’ plans “a misguided attempt to punish drugs out of prisons”. A spokesperson for the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPt), Mike Trace, said “the government must do more than just tackle the supply, and must prioritise effective drug treatment to tackle the demand”. New testing also needs to identify the support that prisoners need to tackle their addiction, including more direct access to substance misuse services. 

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