€700,000 earmarked for HSE drugs campaign

ABOUT €700,000 is to be spent on the National Drug Awareness Campaign, due to start in the coming weeks.

The campaign, which will focus on cocaine, was supposed to have kicked off in the run up to the Christmas party season but was delayed. The start date could not be confirmed yesterday.

The Health Service Executive, which is responsible for the campaign, has said it will concentrate on cocaine and will “dispel the popular myth that cocaine is a recreational and social drug, which is clean and somehow less harmful than opiates [heroin]”.

It said the campaign will utilise “good practice models” developed within the HSE, the voluntary and community sector, and local and regional drug task forces.

The Government, particularly the Drugs Strategy Minister, Pat Carey, have placed emphasis on the next drug awareness campaign, which will also include an online element.

Mr Carey wants the campaign to include alcohol and polydrug use, and not just cocaine. Many of the cocaine-related deaths have involved alcohol, according to coroners.

There has been mounting concern about cocaine in recent months, particularly following the deaths of two young men, John Grey and Kevin Doyle, in Waterford city, and the death of model Katy French in Co Meath.

Last week, the Dublin County coroner Dr Kieran Geraghty said 26 of the 47 drug-related deaths he dealt with this year involved cocaine. “By far the biggest killer was cocaine,” he said.

With of budget of €650,000 to €700,000, some concerns have been raised about the level of funding given to the awareness campaign.

It is slightly more than the budget for the last awareness campaign, which had a very tight budget of €600,000 over three years.

The campaign will highlight the serious health risks associated with cocaine.

A leading neurology consultant said over the weekend she was seeing more cocaine users suffering brain seizures. Dr Orla Hardiman, consultant neurologist at Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital, said she had seen three cases herself this year. She told the Sunday Independent the combined use of cocaine and alcohol was a risk factor. “We are all capable of having seizures. If you provoke the brain enough it will respond. But some people have a lower threshold to do so than others. When you mix cocaine and alcohol, this can be enough to set one off in a person with a low threshold,” she said.

Meanwhile, an outspoken district court judge has expressed “huge concern” at the scarcity of prosecutions taken against middle-class professionals.

Judge Michael Patwell, a north Cork-based judge, said while these users underpinned the cocaine crisis, they hardly ever appeared before the court.

Noxious weed: Cannabis smoke contains more toxic chemicals than tobacco fumes

CANNABIS smoke contains many times more toxic chemicals than smoke from tobacco, according to new research.

Tests conducted in Canada measured the amount of chemicals produced from the smoke of cannabis and compared it to that of tobacco.

The research found that cannabis smoke contained 20 times more ammonia than cigarette smoke, five times more hydrogen cyanide and five times the concentration of nitrogen oxides, which affect circulation and the immune system.

While cannabis smoke has been known to inflict greater lung damage than tobacco, there hasn’t been research listing all the chemicals and toxins in cannabis smoke. There are more than 4,000 chemicals and toxins in tobacco smoke.

A team from research agency Health Canada set up machines that “smoke” cannabis and collect the fumes. The machines were also able to measure “sidestream smoke”, which accounts for 85% of the smoke a person sitting next to a smoker would inhale.

This smoke contained higher levels of almost every toxin measured, except for compounds known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which were more concentrated in directly inhaled cigarette smoke.

The chemicals combine to cause harmful health effects. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have been linked to reproductive disorders and cancer, while at high levels, ammonia can cause asthma.

In July, scientists in New Zealand reported that smoking a single cannabis joint could cause as much lung damage as five chain-smoked cigarettes. Much of the damage is believed to be caused by smokers inhaling cannabis more deeply than tobacco and holding it in up to four times as long.

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