RECENT LEGISLATION has largely shut down the retail “head shop” trade in psychoactive drugs, but controlling internet-based purchases of the drugs remains a “challenge”, according to a report.
The National Advisory Committee on Drugs has released a research report on these substances and the outlets that supply them.
Head shops had sold chemical substances that imitated the effects of controlled drugs such as cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy. A lack of controls on these designer drugs led to them being referred to as “legal highs”, the report says.
Legislative controls banned more than 200 of these “psychoactive” substances and saw the number of head shops fall from 102 in 2010 to 11 now, according to committee chairman Dr Des Corrigan.
The committee commissioned a report from the Centre for Social and Educational Research at the Dublin Institute of Technology on designer drugs. The report, New Psychoactive Substances and the Outlets Supplying Them , was released yesterday.
A “crucial” finding was “the impact of the legislation last year”, Dr Corrigan said. The then government made orders under the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 and 1984 to control a range of psychoactive drugs, so named because of the effects they have on the brain.
Last August the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 was passed, making it an offence to sell, import, export or advertise these substances.
The legislation served to halt most retail sales in designer drugs, a feature of the trade that set Ireland apart from other jurisdictions including Britain, where most of the trade took place over the internet rather than in shops, Dr Corrigan said.
The committee and DIT researchers recognised drug sales could persist via online sales. “While the corner shops had closed down, there was still the possibility of these drugs coming in via e-mail [purchases].”
The report suggests the success of joint efforts by the Irish Medicines Board and the Customs authorities to stop online-related imports of illegal medicines may be applicable when seeking to control the influx of designer drugs.
“Customs are seizing mephedrone [a psychoactive drug] at significant levels,” Dr Corrigan said.
The report points to another aspect unique to Ireland – the injection of designer drugs and heroin as a mix by “problem drug users”. This group faces significant health risks in their attempt to control highs.
Their pattern of use is very different to “recreational” users who had used head shops. Recreational use is more typically driven by “curiosity and availability”. The report’s findings indicate the reduced availability due to the closure of head shops is causing a return to illegal drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine for these users.
The report acknowledges “a challenge may exist” in trying to control internet sale and supply of psychoactive drugs. It suggests methods used by the medicines board and Customs could help.
It calls for greater collaboration with Britain and the EU to restrict access and for routine reporting of new designer drugs to the National Poisons Information Centre. It also urges “a much more dynamic stating of the risks of ‘legal’ highs” over online media such as Facebook and chat rooms.
To date in 2011, the Customs service has made 23 seizures of psychoactive substances and 35 detentions of suspect materials where products are being analysed, according to a Revenue spokesman.
DRUGS REPORT MAIN POINTS:
Recommendations of the report into psychoactive drugs and their supply outlets
* Methods needed to control online sales of designer drugs
* Link with the UK and EU to restrict access and share data
* Collection of patient “presenting issues” when users brought to hospital
* Report new drugs to Poisons Information Centre
* Active use of online media to stress health risks involved
* Intervene to target users who inject a mix of designer and other controlled drugs
* Monitor effect of legislative change so responses to emerging risks can be identified
* Establish a laboratory for rapid analysis of new psychoactives
* Introduce harm-reduction measures to help protect public health
DICK AHLSTROM, Science Editor
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Control of online sales of head shop drugs a 'challenge'