Findings from the National Student Drugs Survey, due to be published in full in September, show that in less than two hours, students can gain access to potentially harmful prescription medicines, according to a report in the Medical Independent.
Approximately 6% of students reported using non-prescribed opioids (pain-killers) including codeine (for mild pain) and/or morphine (for severe pain) while almost 12% had used the benzodiazepines Xanax or Zopiclone (sedatives used to treat anxiety disorder and panic attacks) in the past year.
Approximately 44% had used the club drug MDMA in the past 12 months, a man-made drug, also known as ecstasy or “Molly”, that acts as a stimulant producing psychedelic effects.
However while use of this drug is on the increase, the numbers admitted to emergency departments on foot of its ill-effects had not increased, said Tim Bingham, co-author of the survey and independent drugs researcher.
The percentage of Irish students using some form of MDMA was higher than the numbers in a global drug survey, carried out by an independent research company, where the figure was 38%.
More than 48% of students who took part in the national survey used cannabis. The figure is lower than the 60% who reported using cannabis in the global drug survey.
More than 2,700 third-level students across Ireland responded to the national survey, conducted between October and December 2014.
Mr Bingham also warned that there are huge amounts of counterfeit medicines in circulation.
He cited ‘fat-burners’ or image-enhancing drugs as being of particular concern and warned that they are putting lives at risk.
The data gathered by the study suggests there may be a link between Christmas and the use of fat-burners, but Mr Bingham stressed further research is required.
According to Mr Bingham, the interchangeability of the drug marketplace makes it difficult to curb the use of counterfeit and falsified medicines.
“It’s a very difficult issue and a catch-22 situation. If a particular substance is taken off the street there will be something else to replace it. We need to ask ‘what is going to replace this product,’” he said. For instance, he noted that Pregabalin, an anti-seizure drug, is now becoming a substitute for benzodiazepines in other jurisdictions, but not necessarily in Ireland yet.
Mr Bingham said they had seen a significant drop of more than 50% in the number of students using mystery white powders. He said use of mephedrone, also known as White Magic or meow meow, had also declined among students, suggesting a return to more traditional drugs.
A separate report in the University Times reported that around 75% of more than 300 Trinity respondents to the national survey said they had used illegal drugs, while 5% said they had purchased illegal drugs on the dark web.
On average, respondents to the survey indicated that they spent €72 a month on illegal drugs.
Despite this, more than 80% of respondents said they were not concerned about the impact that drugs were having on their lives.
This finding led Lynn Ruane, president of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), to suggest that students, who the study indicates are only likely to begin using in their first year of college, have not “begun to associate with the health, social and long-term implications of their drug use because they’re very much in the moment, they’re enjoying drugs, and it’s all very new to them”