Thursday 18 July 2019

Varadkar considers plan to test drugs for safety in nightclubs

Measure in place in other countries to detect dangerous impurities

Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Alan Connolly, chairman of Coolmine Therapeutic Community, at the ‘Pathways Through Treatment’ launch at the Mansion House in Dublin.
Photo: Maxwells
Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Alan Connolly, chairman of Coolmine Therapeutic Community, at the ‘Pathways Through Treatment’ launch at the Mansion House in Dublin. Photo: Maxwells
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has revealed that he is examining a proposal to allow users of drugs in venues such as clubs to have them tested for potentially lethal ingredients.

It is part of the Department of Health's scrutiny of some of the more unorthodox measures to tackle the problem of drug misuse which are already in place in other countries.

The radical plan is being examined as part of the work which has recently got under way in drawing up a new national drugs strategy from 2017, with the aim having a report ready in October.

Under the plan, which would require a change in the law, drug users could have illicit drugs or party pills legally tested for potentially lethal ingredients on-site in a club or at a festival.

Mr Varadkar said: "We know from years of experience that education on its own does not work. People need to be aware that when it comes to anything bought over the internet or street they don't really know what they are taking."

He was speaking after the tragedy in Cork when Alex Ryan (18) died after taking an N-bomb synthetic drug.

The minister said there may be a role for these testing kits because "much as we may like to believe it, just telling people not to experiment in drugs has not proven effective for decades".

The testing is not foolproof but it is already in place in countries such as Canada.

Commenting on the proposal, Dr Garrett McGovern, a drug counsellor in Dublin, said he would support it and he warned that dangerous drugs were flooding the market.

In the case of an ecstasy pill, the test could tell the percentage of ecstasy but could also detect some lethal impurities, he explained.

"It has been marketed at revellers in pubs but the potential is there for anyone to get their drugs tested," said Dr McGovern, who will attend a meeting on the new strategy today.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said a steering committee, chaired by John Carr, former secretary general of the INTO, has been established to advise on the new strategy.

An international group chaired by Paul Griffiths, scientific director with the Lisbon-based European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), is in Dublin this week.

They are reviewing the impact of the current strategy in terms of tackling the drugs problem in Ireland.

The introduction of drug-testing kits is among the options being looked at along with opioid substitution.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar yesterday welcomed the results of the first longitudinal outcomes study tracking the progress of addicts who underwent treatment at Coolmine Therapeutic Community in Dublin.

It found that 72pc of those who were treated were still drug-free two years later.

The majority were no longer involved in crime and employment levels had risen from 3pc to 25pc over the two years.

Chairman Alan Connolly said some 144 clients, ranging in age from 18 to 50, took part in the study.

More than half had been abusing more than one drug, although the majority were addicted to heroin.

The report from Trinity College found that the proportion who experienced accommodation problems rose once they had completed the course.

Around one in four was in "acute housing need" two years after treatment.

On average they were in treatment for four months to 14 months as part of the residential course.

One former addict, Paul, who did not want to give his full name, said that he had been addicted to heroin for 30 years.

The turning point came in Coolmine and a key factor was the realisation that he could not continue blaming others.

Irish Independent

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