Head shop drugs widely available online, study warns

BANNED head shop drugs are still widely available on the internet, while Customs officials have made 23 seizures already this year, it emerged yesterday.

A report commissioned by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) and carried out by researchers at Dublin Institute of Technology, claims current problem drug users are especially at risk from head shop drugs, sometimes taking potent drugs intravenously.

The previous government effectively banned head shops last August with the introduction of the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act, which made it an offence to sell, import, export or advertise psychoactive products.

That law, in addition to earlier measures, resulted in the closure of a large number of head shops. It is understood the Department of Health is working on a new legal wording that would ban the sale of substances not currently covered by existing laws.

However, the report indicates that many of the same or similar substances being sold by head shops are being accessed through a “vast” number of online sites, with most delivering to Ireland.

New figures from the Revenue Commissioners yesterday show that to date in 2011, Customs officials made 23 seizures and 35 detentions where products were analysed after suspicions they contained psychoactive substances.

In the NACD report, analysis of sampled products either bought in head shops or online showed that five new psychoactive substances not covered by the ban imposed last year were identified.

One substance, naphyrone, which simulates cocaine, was present in 12% of samples.

Controlled substances were found in two of 37 products sourced in head shops. All samples were bought before the ban.

The report also raised concerns that there is an apparent growth in heroin use by some users to cope with the comedown of head shop substances.

NACD chairman Dr Des Corrigan, writing in the report, said the NACD had been worried about head shops for years and led briefings with gardaí as far back as 2007.

He made a series of recommendations and said yesterday that while there was “no indication” that the remaining head shops were selling illegal substances, there was a need for vigilance, particularly regarding online sales.

In the foreword to the report, the Minister with Responsibility for Primary Care in the Department of Health, Roisin Shortall, said: “Drugs supply and drugs consumption tend to shift in response to legislative changes and the report stresses the on-going need for monitoring and action to tackle any new risks that emerge with appropriate and timely response.”

However, one finding from the report indicates that some users of head shop drugs seemed to be considering switching back to cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine in light of the reduced availability of psychoactive substances.

The report also indicates that some people have become repeat users of the substances, and the use of head shop drugs with other illegal drugs was also common.

In addition, the report claims that some people may be breaking the law when they buy a product that claims to be legal but which can contain controlled substances.

It also highlights the general lack of knowledge of the long-term effects of head shop substances, impacting on harm reduction, and a lack of information regarding A&E attendance as a result of head shop drugs misuse.

In contrast to the “vibrant online community” that discuss the substances’ merits, the report says the health message regarding the risk of using these drugs is “rather muted”.

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