Admitting that the law has not caught up with the lucrative market for psychoactive substances, Drugs Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said what he is hearing from different parts of the country “is terrifying”.
A community worker in Monaghan told an Oireachtas committee that a psychoactive drug that mimics the effects of cannabis had killed two young people in the last 12 months.
Because of the level of abuse in the community people were asking who was going to die next, he said.
Packie Kelly of the Teach na Daoine resource centre said an increasing number of young people were using the drugs and developing complex needs.
He said the synthetic cannabinoids had become the number one drug of choice within Co Monaghan.
“Our survey highlighted that we have children as young as 13 years of age and the oldest user we are aware of is in their early 40s,” said Mr Kelly.
The drugs — Joker, Juicy Fruit, Clockwork Orange Loaded and Volume 2 — were wrapped in very attractive packaging and were freely available.
Mr Kelly said they found the newest version of the drug, that causes extreme psychotic behaviour, on the streets on Wednesday.
The drugs were freely available on the internet and could also be bought in a joke shop in Northern Ireland where it was sold as an incense product.
“If you have an address in the North you can order the drug in large amounts — 100 bags at a time — and then bring it across the border.”
A one gram bag could cost between €15 and €20 and users said they spent between €60 and €200 per week on the products for personal use.
Mr Kelly said lots of users were afraid of coming off the drug because one of the young people who died by suicide had been battling addiction before his death.
“It seems that you go into a very dark place and that ended in suicide for that young person,” Mr Kelly said.
“Certainly the expert advice is that you don’t do it one your own — it’s very dangerous.” Mr Kelly said gardaí were frustrated with the legislation to control psychoactive drugs.
“There is a greyness around the current legislation as to whether they are able to charge people or not.”
He said there were numerous dealers in Monaghan town.
“People come into the community playing very loud music in their cars to advertise that they are selling the drugs. They are like ice cream vans.”
Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said gardaí told him the existing legislation was inadequate and new legislation was needed.
Chairman of the Justice Committee, David Stanton, said the situation was “extraordinarily serious” and called for an Oireachtas committee with sole responsibility for dealing with the issue.
The drugs minister said new psychoactive substances are a constantly changing phenomenon.
He said the emergence of new, psychoactive substances, specifically designed to circumvent drug controls had been a matter of particular concern in recent years, both in Ireland and at international level.
He told the committee there has been an increasing trend towards poly-drug use, involving alcohol, illicit drugs and prescription medication, and this was a major concern for Government.
He said the vehicle to address the issue was the Misuse of Drugs Bill that would be introduced this year. “New substances are emerging all the time and we continue to monitor the problem through our national early warning system which enables the authorities to identify new drugs, describe new trends in use and report the serious and unusual consequences of drug use.”