Wednesday 20 March 2019

Free drug tests dropped in favour of 'amnesty bins' for revellers

'Amnesty bins' would allow dumping of drugs at festivals and clubs without fear of reprisal

MOVE: Dr Garrett McGovern says ‘amnesty bins’ can work
MOVE: Dr Garrett McGovern says ‘amnesty bins’ can work

Mark O'Regan

Free drug testing in nightclubs - so users can check the purity of substances bought from dealers - has been quietly kicked into touch by the Government, the Sunday Independent can confirm.

However, as the country gears up for Electric Picnic next weekend, special disposal bins may now be introduced at music festivals and clubs, allowing revellers to dump drugs without being charged by gardai.

Under the scheme, so-called ''amnesty bins'' would be placed in strategic locations such as a concert campsite. International studies show this can help prevent "panic scenarios" when party-goers may be tempted to take multiple pills at once as they face being searched.

Experts say the new system would also provide an opportunity to analyse at first hand the chemical make-up of discarded narcotics.

The authorities could gain more solid information on what drugs are in circulation at a given point in time.

Current forensic testing is mostly limited to Garda seizures.

There is growing concern that substances such as cocaine are adulterated with other chemicals, leading to potentially lethal consequences.

Meanwhile "chemsex" drugs are to be targeted as part of a new Government blitz. The craze - which involves partners taking recreational drugs to enhance sexual experience - is reportedly common in the gay community, but is also on the rise in heterosexual couples.

It usually involves seriously addictive drugs such as crystal meth, GHB or mephedrone.

These three narcotics are popular in ''chemsex parties''.

However, not only are they dangerous to consume on their own - particularly GHB when mixed with alcohol -they have also been linked to overdoses due to a reduction in inhibitions by the user.

Users can become less aware about using condoms, increasing the risk of sexually transmitted infections, particularly in the gay community. A 2016 survey of men attending the Gay Men's Health Service (GMHS) in Baggot Street, Dublin, found that 27pc of respondents reported that they had engaged in chemsex within the previous 12 months.

Last month, the Government launched its national drug strategy, with a focus on developing a ''health-led'' approach to substance and alcohol use. It comes amid ongoing concern that users of "street drugs'' are unaware of what "mixers" may have been added. Cocaine and amphetamines are increasingly cut with other substances.

The Department of Health confirmed a national oversight committee will be established next month to implement the new national drug strategy.

However, it could not provide a timeframe for a new working group which would specifically monitor drug use in "recreational settings", such as clubs and festivals.

Drug-checking services already exist in Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Front-of-house testing was trialled at two music festivals in the UK last summer.

Dr Garrett McGovern, a specialist in addiction treatment at the Priority Medical Clinic in Dundrum, says amnesty bins have proven "remarkably effective" in other countries. "They call them amnesty bins because they don't want people being arrested as a result of using them. So they'll only be a success if you take away that fear."

He says they should also be made available in inner-city Dublin so drug addicts can safely dispose of drug paraphernalia. "They're not very expensive to erect and very easy to empty.''

Latest figures show illegal drug use is on the rise in Ireland. Cannabis continues to be the most commonly used drug. In the 25-34 age group, 22pc of men have used ecstasy in their lifetime, compared with just over 10pc of women.

The most recent figures for drugs deaths in Ireland show 697 fatalities in 2014.

Sunday Independent

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