| 0.4°C Dublin

Claire Byrne: Why the Government must ban legal highs now, before a night out ends in tragedy

Three teenagers were hospitalised in Co Westmeath recently after they smoked a legally bought substance on their school lunch break. Young Dubliner, Daryl Smith gouged his hand with a screwdriver after he failed in his attempt to throw himself under a train -- he had taken Wild Cat, another legally bought substance. Two weeks ago, a 17-year-old girl had a seizure in her Bray home after taking mephedrone -- again legally purchased in the State.

We have been made firm promises that the retail activities of Headshops will be curtailed. We are told that legislation should be in place by June. By then it might be too late.

There will be 16-year-olds heading out tonight with cash in their pockets to buy these untested, toxic, chemicals from the Headshop owners. What answers will you, the elected Government of the State, with the power to deal with this immediately, have for the parents who will potentially be left bereft and devastated on Monday morning?

There are those who would argue that using the products on sale in a Headshop should be a matter of choice, left up to the individual. What they don't see is that the substances sold in these places are aimed at teenagers and young people who deserve and need the support of the law in order to protect them from this mind-altering and lethal rubbish.

We see fit to ban cocaine and ecstasy and make it as difficult as we can for people to access it. But mephedrone is available on the main street in most of our towns for around €17.50 for half a gram. Accident and Emergency Consultant, Dr Chris Luke told the Herald this week that mephedrone can be even more dangerous than its illegal counterparts. Panic, delirium and hallucinations are among the symptoms he describes, saying that it can take three days to recover from the high.

Our Government can rush through legislation to protect us from crises in the banking sector -- here we have a situation where there are stores on our streets selling cut price substances to young people without restriction. The substances have the potential to make them seriously ill and mentally vulnerable and we are saying, as a country, 'keep on selling them boys, we'll get round to sorting it out in June.'

Imagine yourself as you were aged between 16 and 25. Most of us would have had nights out on the lash, where plenty of drink was had. Now imagine that there was a place open practically all night that sold legal drugs to keep you awake and partying.

The posters in the window say that they are 'herbal' products. The connotation is obvious, herbal equals healthy in the minds of many and so the partying teen might be forgiven for thinking that snorting Wild Cat is a harmless pursuit.

There are few teenagers who could resist the urge. It's not their fault; after all, the stuff is legal, they are not doing anything wrong by buying it.

It is the fault of those people we elected to make the rules for allowing the shops to trade unimpeded by sensible legislation. It is the Government's fault for ignoring the will of the people, who have achieved more on this issue by taking to the streets than anyone has in Dail Eireann.

Public pressure has resulted in the closure of a couple of Headshops around the country, most notably in Clontarf in Dublin and Naas in County Kildare, but others are bound to spring up in their wake.

Today we are saying clearly to our Government, to the ministers we have entrusted with power -- do something now about the sale of legal highs. Wait until June at your peril, because by then, there is every possibility that at least one family could find themselves standing at a graveside because you did not act urgently.