The North East has once again affirmed its fledgling reputation as one of the centres of ‘legal high’ use in the country, as seven people in four separate incidents were taken to hospital on Sunday night after ingesting the drugs.

The incident, which occurred after the men and women (who were aged between 23 and 47) took a substance known as Exodus or Red-X, took place in the west end of Newcastle. Police say they have traced the seller of the substance, and a closure notice has been issued to premises in Fenham.

Chief Inspector Dave Gould of Northumbria Police said that while none of those hospitalised suffered “serious harm”, the use of legal highs is still a major concern.

He said: “People think these so-called legal highs are safe, but they are far from it. They contain harmful substances that are not meant for human consumption and can have serious consequences and I would urge anyone who has taken them and feels unwell to seek immediate medical attention.”

He also spoke of the potential harmful effects from legal highs, which include “reduced inhibitions, drowsiness, excited or paranoid states, unconsciousness and seizures”.

Legal highs, also known as Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPSs), are drugs which are not classified by the government as illegal substances and are thus legal to buy. Even by changing one single part of the formula of the drug, a chemist can escape prosecution. The police and the courts are attempting to catch up with the inventive producers, but since several new drugs appear on the UK market every week it is easy for the chemists and dealers to stay one step ahead. Some of the substances are even billed as “plant food” or “bath salts” in order to make purchasing less conspicuous. This latest incident follows a spate of 999 calls to the emergency services in Newcastle concerning NPS use, with 40 emergency calls being made in a 72-hour period. Ambulance call-outs for legal high use are considerably higher in Newcastle than in most other areas around the country.

The upward trend in NPS-related ambulance call-outs is also putting the North East Ambulance Service under immense pressure. The Service has also reported that the sheer number of incidents is reducing its capacity to respond to life-threatening cases such as strokes and heart attacks.