YOUNG people in the North-East are turning to “legal highs” – instead of cocaine or heroin – because they are cheaper and trendier, MPs have been told.

Little-known substances such as mephedrone and ethylphenidate are also easier to find outside of Britain’s biggest cities, a TV documentary film-maker said.

But Dan Reed – who investigated drug use in Redcar – urged the MPs not to believe it was possible to stamp out legal highs by banning them.

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He told them: “When you ban a substance like mephedrone, or any of the other drugs that we examined in the film, they are driven underground and, therefore, purity is tampered with.

“There is an incentive then to adulterate it, to make it into something that might not be mephedrone and that you can then overdose with.

“At the risk of sounding bland, I think people need to be educated and people need to know what they are dealing with and what they are taking.”

The father-of-three also denied suggestions that his film, made for Channel 4, had “glamorised” taking new pyschoactive substances, the official name for “legal highs”.

He replied: “I distinctly remember one mum saying to me, ‘I’m going to show your film to my teenage daughter because it will put her off drugs for the rest of her life’.”

Mr Reed was speaking to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, in evidence just released, as part of its inquiry into legal highs.

There has been growing alarm about the popularity of legal highs, often sold sold as ‘research chemicals’ and invented faster than the Government can ban them.

They are found in petrol stations, takeaways, tattoo parlours, newsagents, tobacconists, car boot sales, sex shops, gift shops, market stalls and pet shops, the inquiry was told.

Mr Reed filmed young people in Redcar, in particular a long-time drug-taker named Baxter, as well as another group in Hertfordshire.

He told the MPs: “Why were these people specifically taking legal highs? There are a number of different reasons.

“First, the availability of good conventional drugs was not as good in Redcar as elsewhere. It is harder outside the metropolitan areas to come by good conventional drugs.

“The second reason is that you can order these drugs online and if you are caught with them you will not get arrested. Ease of access is a big factor.

“The other factor is that if you are part of a self-selecting little cultural group, emos or the more sophisticated kids perhaps - as these were in Redcar - you might pride yourself on your exploration of the world of new psychoactive substances.

“The exotic chemical names are quite impressive. It is a way of being cool and it is a way of getting drugs cheaply as well.”