Health experts are keeping a close eye on drug trends after what is thought to be the third seizure in Ireland of a new synthetic stimulant.
It comes as the State’s forensic testing agency plans a series of measures to improve drug testing services amid calls from HSE bosses for more active monitoring of the market to allow for speedy alerts to drug users.
This is against the background of an increase in the strength of drugs such as ecstasy (MDMA) and a rise in the presence of other lesser known but often more potent chemicals, either contained in ecstasy tablets or purporting to be ecstasy.
In a routine operation at postal centres on Tuesday, Revenue officers seized a wide range of drugs, including what they said were small quantities of “CMC crystals”.
A Revenue spokeswoman told thethat this was not their first seizure of the drug. She said previous seizures included a substantial haul just before Christmas — a 3.4kg seizure in Athlone — and a smaller haul in Wexford in mid-November.
CMC, also known as 4-CMC or chloromethcathinone, is sometimes described as a “poor” substitute for ecstasy, with stronger stimulant effects but less of the “love drug” effect.
Health experts here are keeping an eye on the trend.
Late last year, the HSE placed alerts on social media informing people that 4-CMC had been found in MDMA products in Britain by drug-testing organisations.
“This substance has been identified in a number of UK products throughout summer 2021. It is a potent stimulant from the 'cathinone' class of substances,” the HSE said.
“It is reported to produce strong stimulant effects with less empathogenic effects compared to MDMA. It can lead to adverse mental health reactions, prolonged stimulation, and insomnia.”
The HSE has repeatedly issued warnings and advice to users in recent years, including last November after an ecstasy tablet was seized in Britain containing almost three times the potency of the average pill.
A recent HSE report highlighted the need in Ireland for “real-time” drug monitoring in order to quickly identify high potency pills and issue health warnings to potential users.
Forensic Science Ireland (FSI) is the national agency tasked with testing drugs seized by gardaí and Revenue and has wanted to have the resources and equipment to conduct more testing.
In response to queries, FSI director general Chris Enright said there were a number of key areas on which his drugs service was focusing:
- Support a fast turnaround (less than 24 hours) for any urgent drug case;
- Increase the capacity of the service to exceed submissions so it can reduce the backlog of cases pending analysis;
- Maintain its drugs intelligence/quantification programme to characterise drug purity at seizure and street level.
“While most urgent drugs cases relate to suspects in custody, we have received some cases from An Garda Síochána with unusual or concerning presentations that we have been able to report on within 24 hours,” Mr Enright said.
“For other cases we are aiming to reduce the turnaround time of analysis significantly, supported by an increase in capacity and the transition to Backweston [the long-awaited new laboratory].”
He said they have maintained the drugs intelligence/quantification programme despite the growth in submissions over the last three years.
“We also maintain our connections with the appropriate national and European drug monitoring teams and report any important observations to them as soon as detected.”
HSE clinical lead on addiction, consultant psychiatrist Eamon Keenan, said: “I am pleased to see that they fast-track unusual or concerning presentations.”
He said a mechanism to feed into the national system would be welcome.
Dr Keenan added: “We still don’t appear to have real-time analysis of drugs seized, for example, within the nighttime economy where alerts/warnings could be conveyed via social media to attendees at events. This could certainly reduce harms and save lives.
“The HSE would be happy to discuss with FSI at any stage as reducing analysis turnaround time would be helpful.”