Friday 6 December 2019

New laws to crack down on gangland drugs crisis

Minister: Simon Harris Photo: Damien Eagers
Minister: Simon Harris Photo: Damien Eagers

Claire Mc Cormack

New laws to crack down on the possession of synthetic cannabis, prescription pills and new psychoactive substances are on the way.

Although the possession of these substances for sale or supply is already an offence, Minister for Health Simon Harris will seek cross-party support in the Dail to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act, making it an offence to possess these drugs for personal use.

It is hoped that extending and strengthening the law will help Gardai clamp down on the sale of former head-shop and prescription drugs - particularly in the wake of escalating of gangland violence.

A Department of Health source said: "The minister has succeeded in dramatically speeding up this bill in order to give the gardai what they need to deal with this insidious and dangerous gangland crime".

"He has reached out to the Opposition and hopes there will be cross-party support for its swift passage," the source said.

Some new drugs will also now be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, including 'Clockwork Orange' - a chemically produced narcotic that has a profound effect on the brain. It was associated with two recent deaths in the Cavan/Monaghan area.

Another is Zopiclone - a psychoactive drug with a hypnotic agent often used in the treatment of insomnia. It was linked to 51 poisoning deaths in the north inner city in 2013.

Two different types of 'NBOMs' - a psychedelic drug similar to the substance that claimed the life of 18-year-old Alex Ryan at a house party in Cork last January - will also be controlled.

Alex, from Millstreet, north Cork, was one of six people between the ages of 18 and 37 who were rushed to hospital after taking '2C1'. The other five survived the excesses of the drug.

The events that unfolded in the house were later vividly and shockingly described by innocent passer-by Gerard Banks; blood on the walls, violent abandon and wild oblivion. According to Garda sources, at one point the students cut themselves with broken glass from a mirror.

However, the rampant possession, sale, supply and use of these substances, often sourced online, is not just confined to urban centres.

The hidden epidemic is also lurking in school playgrounds and on street corners throughout rural Ireland.

Over the past 18 months, counsellors at drug treatment centres in Cavan and Monaghan, and some midland towns, have become increasingly alarmed by the number of young men and women, some aged just 15, presenting with "chaotic addiction" to New Psychoactive Substances (NPS).

Synthetic cannabinoids, sold as 'K2 Spice' and 'Blueberry Mix', are a "major concern".

Tony Duffin, director of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, said new legislation to further control the illicit sale of pills on the country's streets "will deter some people who are currently dealing".

However, he says a "silver bullet" won't eradicate the problem.

"Some people will continue to deal regardless of legal consequences. Also there will be unintended consequence - drug use trends will change, other drugs will emerge or re-emerge. We must prepare and be ready to respond to this," he added.

"Demand for drugs will not simply disappear. It is a health issue and we must increasingly ensure there is appropriate accessible treatment available to people."

Sunday Independent

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