Expert sees rise in addictions to ‘legal drugs’

PEOPLE are being treated solely for an addiction to legal drugs on sale in alternative lifestyle shops, the head of the addictions unit at St John of God’s hospital has said.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Colin O’Gara said increasing numbers addicted to BZP derivatives and amphetamine style head shop drugs were now presenting at the hospital for treatment. Most are under the age of 45, he said, and the increase has begun since some time last year.

Mainly the type of head shop drugs they are addicted to are those which mimic the effects of cocaine such as Snow Blow, XXX and Charge, he said.

They may have been alcoholics who have relapsed or who may have been abusing cocaine in the past.

According to Dr O’Gara, the hospital uses the same detox methods as it would for any other drugs.

He said they seemed to be just as strong as cocaine and other amphetamines.

“We would see people with the same withdrawal symptom – increase in anxiety, sweating, nausea – we have seen people who would be taking them solidly every day for three months – snorting the drugs.” Dr O’Gara said while cocaine abuse was still prolific, now people coming in for treatment had increasingly being using a combination of alcohol, cocaine and head shop drugs.

Dr O’Gara said he had seen people suffering from severe psychosis too as a result of taking the legal drugs.

Sometimes the episode may last for a month or longer, depending on whether the person had a pre-existing condition or not.

“As a multidisciplinary team we would feel head shops are making these drugs more accessible, if they were not there people wouldn’t be able to get them so easily.

“But as we know prohibition of cocaine has not worked – Ireland is one of the highest users in Europe. It is a very complex question about what to do. We would be very concerned about the new drugs coming to replace those being banned. There doesn’t seem to be any coherent way of stopping it,” he said.

Britain’s ban on mephedrone and a range of other drugs has meanwhile been backed by MPs yesterday.

The drug was linked to several deaths and those breaching the ban could face up to 14 years in jail, Junior Home Office Minister Alan Campbell said

The ban was backed by the Tories and the Lib Dems and comes after the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said it should be a Class B drug.

However, one adviser resigned, saying ministers wanted to appear to be “acting tough” before the election.

“Our decision was unduly based on media and political pressure,” he said.

“The report was tabled to the whole council for the first time on Monday; the chair came to brief you [the Home Secretary] before the whole council had even discussed all of the report. In fact, I still haven’t seen the final version,” he said.

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