Tuesday 21 November 2017

At risk - teenagers and drugs: Blood on the walls, insanity on the street

Paul Williams on this week's shocking drugs party in Cork and the reckless teens who are playing Russian roulette with their lives

'Crazy shouting': Gerard Banks who witnessed the chaos in Cork. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
'Crazy shouting': Gerard Banks who witnessed the chaos in Cork. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Paul Williams

It was, according to witnesses, like a scene out of Trainspotting. One man "acted possessed", making inhuman noises while attempting to eat the pavement as he was being treated on the street by paramedics. Two others were discovered unconscious inside a house, the rooms splattered with blood. Three more were admitted to hospital after becoming unwell.

This was the scene in Cork city during the week after a teenage student party went badly wrong when the victims took the controversial and deadly drug N-bomb - an LSD derived drug, lethal in even small doses - for the first time.

It was a hellish scene that left witnesses, neighbours and paramedics alike in a state of disbelief and shock.

We've all heard of the gross and often lethal misuse of recreational and designer drugs like cocaine and ecstasy before. But now we are entering a new phase where previously unheard of laboratory drugs like N-bomb and 2CB - a ecstasy derivative - are purchased cheaply online with the click of a mouse and three-day delivery.

But these often naive and reckless young people are playing Russian roulette with their lives by sampling a broad range of lethal designer drugs, according to Garda narcotics experts.

The incident, which occurred in the quiet and settled area of Greenmount, happened in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Witness Gerard Banks told the Neil Prendeville Show on Cork's RedFM he was walking past the house and heard "crazy shouting".

"So me and a friend looked in the window to see if everyone was okay. The bedroom was covered in blood, walls, floor, bed and even curtains," he said.

A man arrived to the window and said everything was fine. He agreed to let Mr Banks and his friend into the house to see if anyone was hurt.

"When we went in it was like a scene from CSI."

Mr Banks said there was a man and woman naked, covered in blood. The naked man was smashing up the house and there was another man on the floor in cardiac arrest with major breathing problems. "It's really scary stuff and we need to make everyone aware of its dangers."

A 29-year-old man was arrested by gardai on Wednesday following a series of raids in the city.

Tests were immediately conducted to definitively establish what substances were consumed. Initial reports suggested it was 2CB, but it was later confirmed to be N-bomb.

A spokesperson for the HSE said that these new designer drugs are similar to products previously sold in head shops. These stores were closed down around the country in 2010 - but there are over 700 shops online selling these dangerous products, according to a Dublin expert.

Bernie McDonnell, director of services with Community Awareness of Drugs (CAD) in Dublin, says the problem has simply moved from the high street to the internet.

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.

Underground laboratories operated by organised crime syndicates are flooding the European market with a wide variety of dangerous, mind-bending substances, most of which can cause death or long-term psychiatric illnesses. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is currently monitoring 443 new psychoactive substances that are available across the EU. Among the chemicals being used in the new generation of psychoactive substances are compounds found in industrial cleaners, horse tranquillisers, cattle de-worming agents and solvents for removing nail varnish.

Scientists working for criminal gangs have even synthesised 'man-made' cannabis which has such high levels of the synthetic cannabinoids, scores of young users have ended up in residential psychiatric care throughout the country.

The gangland horticulturists have also cultivated a new type of highly toxic cannabis plant for the international market called 'Frisian Duck', which does not have the distinctive pungent odour of the normal cannabis plant.

"The link between these highly toxic cannabis plants to depression and suicide is a very real feature of the devastating effects of these novel compounds," said an expert attached to the Garda Organised Crime and Drugs Bureau (OCDB).

"In back-street laboratories, chemists tweak the molecular structures of the chemical substances found in existing illegal drugs with no research, or concern, about the health risks they carry.

"This is done so that the drugs fall just outside the schedule of narcotics legally controlled by misuse of drugs legislation in most countries, thus the term designer drugs.

"The drug cartels are making fortunes from this trade and they don't care about the damage these substances are doing to the users. The way that the illicit drug market has evolved means that people no longer know what they are taking because these substances have never been subject to any research.

"In the past, white-powder drugs could have been assumed to be amphetamines or cocaine but with the arrival of dozens of new psychoactive white powder drugs, this assumption is no longer safe.

"What is being sold now is much more dangerous than the traditional stimulant drugs such as cocaine, amphetamine or MDMA," the expert added.

The result of this evil illicit trade is the sort of scene that unfolded in Cork this week. One young man was in a "demonic state" when he was found naked and covered in blood while attempting to "eat the pavement".

The man "acted possessed" and was like a "wild animal" as it took three gardai to restrain him before he was rushed to hospital.

The OCDB officer said that the horrific scenes witnessed in Cork were "typical" of the kind of mind-bending effects of the new drugs.

"What happened in Cork is typical of the effects of these new synthetic substances, which are absolutely lethal and more dangerous than the traditional substances," he told Review.

"In recent years, we have seen the arrival of dozens of new psychoactive substances like 2CB, which have had devastating consequences for users and their families.

"There are scores of young people in psychiatric care and in graveyards after taking these drugs.

"It is astonishing to see how intelligent, well-educated young people who should be more aware and better informed are prepared to play Russian roulette with their lives by ingesting these substances."

Last year, the HSE and the gardai issued nationwide public warnings following a spike in drug-related deaths among young ecstasy users across the country.

In most of the cases, the deceased had taken ecstasy tablets that had "green Rolex" or "green Apple" logos. These pills were found to contain a substance known as PMMA (paramethoxymethylamphetamine), which is chemically similar to MDMA but is slower to take effect. This causes users to overdose by taking extra tablets to achieve the hit they had expected - but with deadly results. When the high concentration of the drug takes effect, it can often cause overheating, respiratory failure and death.

Gardai also say that they are also seriously concerned at a noticeable upsurge over the past year in the demand for ketamine, a mind-blowing tranquilliser used in veterinary medicine. Another dangerous drug to appear on the Irish club scene is gamma-hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, which is a solvent found in nail-varnish remover and industrial cleaning agents. GHB - a diluted form of Rohypnol - comes in liquid form and users put drops of the solution into drink to experience an immense psychoactive rush.

"We cannot over emphasise the risk of overdose and even death from using this drug, it is potentially lethal," the garda expert stressed.

The OCDB works closely with the HSE in analysing drug-abuse trends and the types of narcotics on the market.

"In conjunction with our primary role of targeting drug suppliers, we also keep our colleagues in the public health sector fully briefed about the abuse of various drug types. Both the gardai and the HSE are very concerned about the broad range of dangerous drugs that are being misused by young people around the country."

But this is an issue that reaches beyond the role of the gardai or HSE. This is an issue for all of society. For families, schools, communities and legislators alike. Let this shocking incident on the normally sedate and quiet streets of Cork's Greenmount be taken as a lesson well learned.

Our children's lives depend on it.

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