Young people attending this weekend’s Electric Picnic Festival in Co Laois have been warned of high strength drugs in circulation, particularly as a number of people have died already this year to drugs.
The warnings come as four young men were rushed to University Hospital Kerry in recent days for side effects associated with suspected ecstasy use. It is believed the men, all in their late teens to early 20s, were in Waterville at the same time as the Charlie Chaplin Festival last weekend.
Garda sources last night said there was no confirmation of MDMA in the four, but that the cases would be further examined in the coming days.
A top Garda drugs officer has urged people thinking of taking drugs at this weekend’s Electric Picnic to bear in mind the recent deaths of young people at festivals here and in Britain.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Detective Superintendent Brian Woods, attached to the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, warned users that gardaí will be conducting “covert and overt policing” at the festival and said substances will be seized and offenders could face prosecution.
His comments follow the death of 19-year-old student Jack Downey at Cork University Hospital earlier this month after he is suspected of taking ecstasy at the Indiependence festival in Mitchelstown.
In other investigations this summer, gardaí are also examining one other death suspected of being associated with ecstasy and a non-fatal poisoning of a young man.
British media reported this week that three people died from suspected drug deaths at festivals in England last weekend, including a 17-year-old girl and a 19-year-old man.
Warnings have been issued by festival organisers and some police forces in the UK regarding high strength MDMA (ecstasy) tablets circulating.
Eamon Keenan, HSE’s National Clinical Lead- Addiction Services, said yesterday: “The HSE is aware that across Europe in the last couple of years there has been a significant increase in the strength of MDMA/ ecstasy, which means increased risks for users. This is likely to be reflected in Ireland also.”
Those warnings come as a major report by Dutch authorities (where most of Ireland’s ecstasy comes from) said that effectively “only high-dose” MDMA tablets are on the market.
This assessment follows a continuing rise in the strength of ecstasy tablets being tested in Holland, with an average dosage now almost twice what they say is typically enough to give the desired effect and this was posing greater risks to users.
The Dutch Information Monitoring System Annual Report 2018 said that 17% of MDMA tablets tested in 2018 contained more than 200mg of MDMA, compared to just 3% of tablets in 2014.
It said 72% of all tablets contained more than 150mg, compared to 46% in 2014. The average dose was now 171mg and the strongest pill contained 296mg. It said: “From this, it can be concluded that there are really only high-dose XTC tablets on the market, high if compared to the dosage that gives the desired effect (roughly 80mg-100mg).”
Det Supt Woods said they were seeing a rise in the amount of MDMA powder, rather than tablets, being imported. He told people thinking of taking drugs at Electric Picnic:
What I would say, particularly in light of the tragic deaths we’ve had recently, that people should be very mindful that taking these drugs are bad for you, from a health perspective. You don’t know what you are taking.
And he warned: “You should also be mindful that gardaí will have a covert and overt presence and you could face prosecution if you decide to either bring in or supply drugs.”
He also said gardaí were awaiting a proposal from the HSE on the possible provision of drug-testing facilities at festivals, but said gardaí would examine legal issues around such proposals and whether they promoted the normalisation of drug use.