The rate at which so-called 'head shops' selling legal highs are opening is quite alarming and certainly those keen to make a quick buck aren't slow about jumping on the band wagon.
While such a shop opened in Cavan town a couple of years ago, the recent opening of the 'Dream Shop' in Ballyconnell and Oldcastle, and most recently Bailieboro just goes to show how popular the shops are.
The government moved quickly a year ago to ban party pills (BZP) but the trouble with controlled drugs is that as soon as one substance is banned, underground chemists find something new to replace it and mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy or cocaine.
Legislators can try to keep up with the latest legal high but there's always going to be something else.
At the end of the day, if there's a demand for such products, somebody somewhere will find a way to sell them legally, or illegally.
There is a danger that young people experimenting with legal highs may believe them to be safe, simply because they are legal. But the only reason they are legal is they haven't been banned (yet).
The other problem is that substances that are banned in the North might not be banned here. There is a definite need for co-operation between the governments and the authorities North and South on this issue.
That said, perhaps it would be worth considering looking at the products that are on sale in head shops and regulating them more tightly. Maybe some of these legal highs aren't as harmful as substances such as ecstasy, speed and cocaine. Perhaps, there could be some sort of quality mark developed for such products.
After all, alcohol was banned once upon a time and cigarette packets now carry hazard warnings. Sometimes society tends to forget that these too are classed as drugs, albeit legal ones. And alcohol can certainly provide its own dangerous high, sadly as Irish society can testify to.
At the end of the day, there is some merit in tightly regulating such products, rather than driving them to the black market, where they can't be supervised.
It may be an unpalatable solution but one worth considering. Education and awareness among young people about the effects of these substances has to be paramount to any campaign.
Young people have to be made aware of, and protected from, all types of harmful drugs - be they legal or illegal.
February 24, 2010
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