Head shops closed but trade in legal highs thrives on internet
Head shops have closed down around the country but there are more than 700 online shops selling these dangerous products, according to an expert.
Bernie McDonnell, director of services with Community Awareness of Drugs (CAD) in Dublin, revealed that the problem hasn't gone away.
Legislation to ban the sale and supply of such substances took effect in 2010, with research showing that consumption of so-called legal highs fell sharply after the Government crackdown.
"Banning them certainly did reduce the amount, but the online shops are still there," said Ms McDonnell.
"There are networks of people who are distributing them around the place. But the laws have helped. How we know the laws have helped is the numbers attending for treatment have gone down considerably, so we know that there is an improvement," she said.
The drugs being sold online mimic illegal drugs, so there is a substitute for drugs like heroin and ecstasy. However, Ms McDonnell warns that by taking them "you are still doing damage".
CAD delivers drug education and training programmes for parents, guardians, carers and community workers, and Ms McDonnell is involved in the design and delivery of the programmes.
"We go into the school or the community centre once a week for six weeks and the parents get a chance to update their drug information, and explore any attitudes that they have. And, very importantly, to develop a prevention strategy that would suit their family, because not everybody will suit all suggestions," she said.
"But there are things that people can take from it and certainly use with their young people," she said.
"A lot of people would say to a parent, 'you have got to talk about drugs', but what we found even back in the '80s when we were first set up, was parents don't have that information," Ms McDonnell said.
Ms McDonnell said a number of communities are talking about solvent misuse again.
"Age 14 seems to be the peak age of experimenting with solvents and that's a really high-risk practice. Death can happen the first time they do it, or the 51st time they do it," she pointed out.
"We thought that had gone away for a few years, but what we suggest to parents is to do a safety audit in your house.
"If we could get parents to do that basic safety check - are there any sleeping tablets, tranquillisers, morphine-based tablets? Is there too much paracetamol in the house?
"People are telling us that parents are the last to find out...[young people] can cover it up because they are going through money that the parents are not realising."