Dr Bobby Smyth said the use of headshop drugs by young people in Co Monaghan had been possibly due to its proximity to the North, where the substances are not banned as they are here.
However, the UK government is debating the merits of introducing laws similar to those introduced in August 2010 — and which Dr Smyth said had made a difference to the number of cases coming forward where legal highs are an issue.
On Thursday, the Oireachtas justice committee heard that children as young as 13 are using legal highs, with community worker Packie Kelly of the Teach na Daoine resource centre claiming two teenagers had lost their lives in the past year as a result of using the substances.
Drugs Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said he found reports of what was happening regarding the proliferation of drugs in some parts of the country “terrifying”.
However, a study conducted by researchers in Trinity College Dublin and led by Dr Smyth found there was a significant drop on the use of headshop drugs among adolescents in the period after the ban was introduced.
He is now reviewing similar data, but this time for adult clients, and that the initial results appeared to indicate a similar fall in usage.
Dr Smyth said the law introduced nearly five years ago banning the sale of psycho-active substances was a “novel piece of legislation” that had worked very well — and that were the UK to introduce a similar law, it might result in a reduction in the kind of problem usage recently highlighted in Monaghan.
“It would make this market less easy [to access],” he said but added that if the UK introduced such laws, “it is not going to eliminate the problem”.
“It could go further underground,” he said, claiming the internet could also play a role.
However, he said there was a bigger issue with teenagers smoking cannabis and that in general, “I think as a society we have taken our eye off the ball”.
He said what needed to be prioritised was prompt and easily accessible treatment services for those who do develop addiction problems.
The Revenue Commissioners said they made 33 seizures of former headshop substances over the past year and that the drugs came through the postal system.
Of the 33 seizures, 13 had been in pill format and 525 pills in total had been seized.
A Revenue spokesperson said: “It is not possible for us to categorically state what substance is in every pill, however of the 525 pills seized, 170 pills were in the benzodiazepine class. The remainder involved substances such as pentedrone, 4MEC, ethylone, methylone.
“The overall value of the 33 seizures is approximately €120,000 and originated mainly in Asian countries. One new synthetic cathinone (pentedrone) was seized.”