[IMGr=white]http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_4_kUnOf_Mxg/SBBkHITNyHI/AAAAAAAAABA/8xPw3mXgdTM/s320/Party-Pills.jpg[/IMGr]ACTION will be taken next month to ban a range of "legal highs" widely available for purchase over the counter in so-called head shops.
Drugs Minister John Curran signalled the move yesterday and said a number of psychoactive substances would shortly be added to the controlled list of substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The junior minister with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy chaired a meeting of the British-Irish Council in the Isle of Man which focused on the controversy surrounding head shops and the availability of drugs in prisons.
Last night, he told the Irish Independent a range of substances was expected to be added to the controlled list of drugs early next month.
"The UK did it before Christmas; now we are going to do it," he said.
Many of the head shops specialise in legal alternatives to illegal substances such as cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy.
There has been heavy scrutiny of the lucrative business in recent weeks. A head shop on Dublin's Capel Street was burnt down and another was badly damaged by a fire.
Mr Curran said Ireland would be extending the range of substances banned to include mephedrone which is contained in products labelled as "Charge" or "Snow Blow". "We intend including that on the list. That has not been done in the UK," he said. He said continued monitoring would be required because new products could emerge to take their place.
According to the Health Research Board, mephedrone was being sold through head shops as "bath salts". It was being used as a substitute for cocaine with some addicts reportedly "injecting" the salts.
The substances can bring on anxiety, paranoia and psychosis, according to experts. The use of mephedrone has been linked to two deaths in Sweden.
European countries including Germany, France, Luxembourg, Austria and Poland have taken legal action to remove "spice", a synthetic cannabinoid, from the market. However, it has been replaced with a similar product, "smoke".
Health Minister Mary Harney has promised legislation to deal with the shops by June.
The council meeting heard other countries also had problems with "legal highs" but in many cases those products were sold over the internet rather than through head shops. Last year, the chemical BZP used to make "party pills" was made illegal.
Fine Gael TD Dr James Reilly said a number of measures could be taken immediately to tackle the spread of head shops, such as amending the Finance Bill to require such shops to have an operating licence.
By Louise Hogan
Thursday February 25 2010