Wednesday 17 January 2018

Docs warn head-shop ban has little effect

Party drugs worse than 'ordinary decent heroin'

Terence Cosgrave

There has been a huge increase in hospital admissions due to 'head shop' drugs, sold since the stores were banned.

The situation has deteriorated so much since the ban that doctors working in the HSE's methadone programme to manage opiate addiction have issued a warning that these drugs can prove more dangerous than what one HSE methadone programme doctor called "ordinary decent heroin".

The banned products can lead to serious physical problems such as cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), mental problems including paranoia, and even full-blown psychotic episodes.

Another specialist, Dr Colin O'Gara, a consultant psychiatrist working in addiction services at St John of God Hospital in Dublin, says the advent of the drugs caused serious problems, but the recent ban on head shops hasn't even reducing the problem.

"Five years ago, cocaine was 100 per cent of the problem, but now it's 50 per cent, with the rest being made up of head-shop drugs such as methadrone.

"We are about where we were before -- dealing with a serious volume."

It means that rather than destroying the market for drugs previously sold in the shops -- as was hoped for by Health Minister Mary Harney who introduced the ban -- the drugs have simply moved on to the black market.

And the danger they pose has increased because members of the public may take the drugs, without realising what they are taking, and can underestimate both the dose they can tolerate, and the effects the drug may have.

The warning that has been issued by doctors within the drugs service is headed 'Be careful -- advice to anyone using street drugs'.

It details how addiction service staff have become aware of serious physical and mental reactions suffered by drug users and that as far as they can determine, substances previously sold in head shops are now being used to cut drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

This has resulted in a number of people being treated in both medical and psychiatric units.

It urges anyone who uses drugs to be "extra cautious at this time" and to report any unusual reactions to addiction workers or their own doctors.

In addition, doctors say the net effect of the banning of drugs sold in head shops has meant that these drugs they have gone underground.

Also, they warned that new drugs that were concocted in China, are being sold in the shops and "even less is known about these substances and their effects".

The medical staff say the ban has not had the desired effect by a long shot, and they are bracing themselves for even more casualties and health emergencies, resulting from the continued abuse of such substances.

Sunday Independent

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