The Union of Students of Ireland (USI), in partnership with Drugs.ie and the HSE, have launched a new harm reduction information campaign aimed at people who use new psychoactive substances (NPS). This comes in response to a recently released European Schools Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD) that indicated that the use of psychoactive drugs in Ireland among the 15-24 year age group is the highest in Europe (22% lifetime use). Furthermore, the rate of average use among 15-16 year olds across 35 European countries was 4%, while in Ireland it was almost double that at around 7%. The highest levels of use in Europe in the last 12 months were in Ireland (9%), Spain (8%), France (8%) and Slovenia (7%), according to the survey of people aged between 15 and 24. Three percent of users had purchased the drugs online. However, the report says that because the drugs were known by different names across the EU, and because users may have taken them without realising they were psychoactive, it was difficult to determine real patterns of use in an internationally comparative context.
New Psychoactive Substances are a range of drugs that have been designed to mimic established illicit drugs, such as cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and LSD. Manufacturers of these drugs develop new chemicals to replace those that are banned, which means that the chemical structures of the drugs are constantly changing to try to stay ahead of the law. NPS are being developed at an unprecedented rate, while their strengths & ingredients are undefined. The NP substances include research chemicals and ‘legal’ alternatives to traditional drugs – pills and powders imported from Chinese labs and sold online in colourful vac-pack bags that look like candy, and have names like “GoWhizz,” “JawShatterer,” and “Colombian Banter Fuel,” to name only a few. However, the most common type of NPS is synthetic cannabinoids, or fake weed, which makes up 60 percent of all NPS seizures by police across Europe. Synthetic cathinones like mephedrone, which is generally sold as a replacement for MDMA, and amphetamines make up the second largest NPS group, and account for 22% of all seizures.
Data suggests that the purity or potency of most illicit substances is increasing, and that the market for substances is becoming more varied and accessible. This phase of the Drugs.ie and HSE campaign focuses on two specific drugs – MMDA (ecstasy) and Ketamine (K); two harm reduction posters have been designed to give harm reduction advice and information on accessing support. “Ongoing use of a variety of substances by young people and students has rightly attracted attention and concern due to the significant number of physical and psychological side effects associated with their use,” said USI President Annie Hoey at the campaign’s launch, “as such, it’s important for us to ensure that students’ relationship with substances is as safe as possible. Taking illegal and unknown substances is unsafe.”
Cork City itself experienced its own tragedy with illegal psychoactive drugs in January of this year; at a house party at St.Patrick’s Terrace in Greenmount, 6 young people who had taken the drug 25INBOMe, a derivative of the substituted phenethylamine psychedelic 2C-I known colloquially as ‘N-Bomb’, collapsed and were hospitalised in the early hours of the morning. Tragically, one of the hospitalised, an 18 year old student called Alex Ryan from Millstreet, died in hospital from a fatal overdose of the drug. NBOMe, also known by its other street names ‘Smiles’ and ‘Solaris’, is a psychoactive drug that creates a powerful hallucinogenic effect akin to LSD in extremely small doses, but it can have very serious side effects – especially when snorted, as it becomes extremely potent. Experts have warned that just one line of the drug snorted could prove lethal. Side effects of the consumption of the drug routinely include paranoia, hallucinations, stomach problems and kidney problems. The HSE warned: “young people are advised that there is no quality control on these drugs. There are problems with purity and contaminants, and there is no way of checking that what is purchased or consumed is the intended substance.” Given the serious side-effects experienced by the young people in Cork, the HSE Addiction services are issuing a warning about possible contaminated ‘party pills’ and advise people not to consume any unknown substances that they are offered.
Dr. Eamon Keenan, HSE National Clinical Lead for Addiction services, said of the campaign: “The HSE is partnering with the [USI] to target students and young people with an appropriate Harm Reduction message. It is always safer not to use illegal drugs, and we advise people not to use [them], however we have a duty to reduce harm and protect young people’s health. The key messages that we need to get to people is to Stay Safe and to be aware of the strength of the drugs they are taking. There is information, support and help available through www.drugs.ie or the Drugs Helpline.”
The campaign was launched by Minister Catherine Byrne in the Institute of Technology Tallaght, and is the first step of an ongoing campaign to provide harm reduction information for students.
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