TEENAGERS in Londonderry are snorting a certain type of bath salts, it can be revealed.
A drug intervention worker told the Sentinel that so called 'legal highs' are a "massive problem" in the North West.
Specific substances are being sold legally in Londonderry and being used as recreational drugs.
The substances are being marketed, for example as bath salts, but used as 'herbal cocaine'. Other 'legal high' products are also sold over the counter in Londonderry.
A worker who works with a drug intervention service (DAISY) said the abuse of these substances is "quite common" and he has witnessed a "huge increase" in the last number of years. The problem, according to another person working at DAISY, seems to be most prevalent among teenagers.
The DAISY (Drug and Alcohol Intervention Service for Youths) worker says that he treats both legal and illegal substances in the same way.
"I work as a key worker through drug and alcohol with young people. Out of a group of twenty I have at the minute, five of them would be using (legal drugs) regularly. And by regularly I mean four or five times a week."
The intervention worker says that he has been working with young people for a number of years and has witnessed an increase in the number of young people using these substances.
"It is a massive problem. A number of years ago I wouldn't have seen as many. It is quite common now, there has been a huge increase.
"I know that there is drug dealing going on in Limavady with this. Apparently, they are being bought and mixed with other stuff, maybe rat poison; I don't know."
He emphasises that the drugs are not safe simply because they have not been made illegal.
"People are believing it's safe. They think it is like a postcard to go out and buy it. It is seen as a safe alternative. But the fact is that there is little information out there about what the effects of these drugs are."
The DAISY worker says that he treats the misuse of 'herbal cocaine' as the same as the illegal version.
"They are using four to five times a week. This is a normal addiction. I treat people who use herbal cocaine as the same as those who use illegal cocaine. We do not treat legal highs differently. We work with people with drug problems, illegal or not."
He says that a major problem with these substances is the fact that people may become long term drug users who might not otherwise have taken drugs.
"It is like a gateway drug. People see that it is legal and they don't even really consider it as taking drugs. It is drug use, legal or not. People who might not take drugs are taking this stuff because they see that it is legal. They wouldn't have taken it because of political reasons, police, whatever it is, but then they go for the herbal stuff, get the high and end up really getting in to the drugs. They keep going for that high and end up taking all sorts of drugs."
The substances may be sold legally because they are being marked with 'Not for human consumption'.
The DAISY worker says that he has personally been researching the problem of legal highs. Contributing to the problem, is a lack of information about the effects, he said.
"If you go online and look at the sites, all you can see is users describing the 'high'. There is nothing in the way of information about the effects of these drugs. People don't know what this stuff is doing to them."
A PSNI spokeswoman said: "Police are not aware of any specific incidents relating to this substance however we would advise the public to come forward with any information they have about the abuse of any drug.
"Abusing any chemical substance can have serious long term health risks."