The First and Deputy First Ministers have branded the stories of families affected by the drug mephedrone 'heart-rending' as the Executive calls for its immediate banning.
"Anyone who has listened to the heart-rending stories of parents whose children have suffered the tragic consequences attached to the abuse of this so called 'legal high', cannot fail to have been touched by what they heard," Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness said.
"We will be writing immediately to the ACMD to make clear to them, in the strongest possible terms, of our concern in relation to this issue."
The bid to ban the so-called legal high mephedrone is continuing as concern mounts about the prevalence of its use by young people in Northern Ireland.
"As Ministers and indeed as parents and grandparents ourselves, we are committed to doing all in our power to educate and protect our young people from the pernicious evil of drugs in whatever form they take," the joint leaders added.
Meanwhile the Health Minister has described the drug as a "potential killer which poses a serious threat to our young people".
Michael McGimpsey is also calling for the substance to be made illegal as soon as possible and has written to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to urge them to take urgent action.
"Making these drugs illegal will reinforce the message that they not safe," he said.
"But we must also continue to inform and educate young people and parents about the dangers of drugs."
As drugs classification is a reserved issue, the Northern Ireland Assembly is unable to take the necessary action to make this drug illegal.
The spotlight was turned on the issue at a meeting of the Health Committee on Thursday afternoon.
Committee Chairman Jim Wells told UTV banning mephedrone was the best way forward.
"The sooner we bring this under control the better," he said.
"We need to act very quickly because this is clearly taking off and there is evidence of stockpiling ... drug dealers buying large quantity of this legally at the minute, so they can sell it on under the counter illegally if a ban comes in.
"We need to move quickly."
Mephedrone - also know by nicknames including McCat, Miaow, Meph, 4MMC and Drone - is not currently illegal to possess, but it is against the law to supply or advertise it for human consumption.
The government's chief drugs advisor has hinted it could be banned and reclassified as a class B drug and a recommendation will be made to the government on Monday.
In the mean time, it is commonly being supplied by head shops - labelled as plant fertilizer or some other substance not meant for consumption.
Possible side effects of mephedrone include anxiety and paranoia, heart palpitations and fits or seizures. If snorted, it can lead to severe nosebleeds.
As with many substances, regular use can lead to the development of a compulsive habit.
Public fears about the drug have intensified since the death of two teenage friends in England last week.
Louis Wainwright, 18, and Nicholas Smith, 19, died in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, after taking a cocktail of substances including mephedrone, heroin substitute methadone and alcohol.
In Northern Ireland a number of recent suicides have been reportedly linked to depression caused by misuse of mephedrone.
One user told UTV mephedrone is both highly addictive and readily available.
"In my mobile phone alone, I have 16 dealers numbers - that's how easy it is to get some," she said.
"And it's getting cheaper and cheaper."
Vice Chair of the Health Committee, Michelle O'Neill, has slammed the websites of both the Department of Health and the Public Health Agency, as neither have any information on them regarding mephedrone - but a Google search reveals that the first ten websites are suppliers of the potentially lethal drug.
"The extreme ease of young people being able to access this is worrying," Ms O'Neill said.
"However what is more worrying is that following this a search of both the Department of Health and the Public Health agencies, two agencies who are tasked as the main drivers for information into health matters both returned no results for mephedrone.
"This is wholly unacceptable. One would think that following the tragic deaths of young people at the hands of this substance there would be advice on the dangers and signs of use of mephedrone on these websites.
"We need to see a much more hands on and forthright approach from these two agencies against the usage and availability of so called legal highs."
But she added: "However there is always a danger that, if and when mephedrone is illegalised and removed form supply another substance will fill this gap."
Concern has been expressed by Health Committee Chair Jim Wells that the imminent dissolution of parliament ahead of the general election could interrupt the legislative process needed to enact a ban on mephedrone.
However Health Department legislative expert Linda Devlin assured Mr Wells a ban could be enacted rapidly even with an election campaign.
"The process would be that a draft order in council would be laid before both houses of parliament so it would have to go through the House of Commons and House of Lords," she explained.
"But even if a general election were to be called today or tomorrow the convention is that there will be a few days, there's a always a few days that urgent business can be taken through.
"So it shouldn't be impossible to have action taken very quickly."
© UTV News
Thursday, 25 March 2010
Link includes video report (UK Only)
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