A HEAD shop product bought in north Dublin over the weekend has been confirmed as a cocaine substitute.
A Joint Oireachtas Committee was told yesterday, however, that the product is not on the banned list of substances, which was imposed last month to outlaw available legal highs.
Fine Gael's health spokesman Dr James Reilly said a concerned citizen had test-purchased the product known as "Amplified" on Saturday in a head shop in a north Dublin village and it had since been given to gardai.
However, he told the committee on Health and Children that when he contacted the National Poisons Unit in Beaumont Hospital, it was revealed to be a cocaine substitute.
He said this showed how legal highs were still slipping through despite controls imposed on psychoactive substances.
Meanwhile, Department of Health officials told the committee the latest figures obtained from gardai showed that 36 head shops were still open.
Chief pharmacist Marita O'Flynn said she was told by gardai that this number was "subject to fluctuation".
Head shops were not only involved in selling legal highs but also sold pipes and bongs, a filtration device for smoking.
On the day the ban was introduced, gardai visited 102 head shops countrywide and asked owners to voluntarily give them products containing any of the 200 substances that were now outlawed. She understood that they obtained "large amounts" of these substances. Ms O'Flynn said it was Health Minister Mary Harney's intention to add more substances to the banned list if efforts were made to circumvent the law by introducing new products.
The department is working with gardai, the customs service and the forensic state laboratory on the issue.
Plans by the Justice Minister to bring forward legislation to outlaw substances which have psychoactive effects should further strengthen the protection of the public.
A pilot scheme in hospitals in Cork and Waterford now screens people who present with symptoms after taking head shop products.
When they come in they are asked what substance they are using and what problems it had caused . They are then referred to a counsellor.