Home > Identifying new drugs and new drug trends with the help of drug helplines.

Sinclair, Hamish (2006) Identifying new drugs and new drug trends with the help of drug helplines. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 19, Autumn 2006, p. 11.

PDF (Drugnet Ireland, issue 19) - Published Version

In July 2006 the European Foundation of Drug Helplines (FESAT) published the results from its eleventh monitoring project.1 Since the beginning of 2001 FESAT has been collecting information every six months on the types of person contacting helplines throughout Europe, the content of these calls and how this has changed compared to the previous six months. The main objective of this monitoring is to identify the emergence of new drugs and new drug trends as early as possible.

During the second half of 2005 six helplines received calls about drugs that had not been reported to them before. Helplines in Cyprus and Italy reported calls about Ketamine, an anaesthetic that has hallucinogenic effects. The Cypriot helpline also reported questions about LSA, a naturally occurring psychedelic found in some plants. In Austria, calls were received about mCPP, a piperazine-derived designer drug commonly sold as ecstasy. One Belgian helpline reported receiving 15 calls about Efedrine (Ephedrine), a stimulant that suppresses appetite. In Finland, calls were received about GBL, which when ingested turns into GHB, producing effects such as relaxation, mild euphoria and drowsiness. Lastly, in Norway, two new drugs were reported by one helpline: Vallergan, an antihistamine with sedative effects reportedly used by drug users to relieve sleeping problems, and DMT, a hallucinogenic drug similar to LSD.

The FESAT report also notes a continuation of the increasing trend in the number of calls about cocaine and about alcohol; whether these were used in combination is not stated.

Unpublished data from the Drugs/HIV Helpline in Ireland show that the number of calls about the combined use of alcohol and cocaine as a proportion of all calls concerning alcohol or cocaine increased threefold over the period 2002 to 2006 (Table 1). However, trends based on helpline calls should always be interpreted with care. Aileen Dooley, Drugs/HIV Helpline manager, stresses that helpline staff record only what is revealed during calls, and a caller might not always mention a second drug (Aileen Dooley, personal communication). In addition, helpline staff are increasingly aware of the need to record mention of alcohol. So the observed increase may be due, in part, to better recording practices.

Table 1   Number of calls to the Drugs/HIV Helpline about the combined use of alcohol and cocaine as a proportion of all calls concerning alcohol or cocaine in the first five months of the year, 2002–2006.


Number of calls in the first five months of each year













All calls about either cocaine or alcohol






Calls about the combined use of cocaine and alcohol






Proportion of calls about the combined use of cocaine and alcohol












Source: Aileen Dooley, Drugs/HIV Helpline

In July 2005, theHealth Promotion Unit of the Department of Health and Children launched the third phase of the National Drugs Awareness Campaign, which was aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of mixing cocaine with other drugs, especially alcohol.2 When cocaine and alcohol are taken together they combine in the body to form another drug, Cocaethylene, which is more toxic than either drug alone. Cocaethylene can seriously affect the normal functioning of the heart. This recent phase of the drug awareness campaign specifically targeted recreational settings, such as pubs and clubs. Anecdotal reports suggest that cocaine is increasingly available in Irish pubs, which tends to link the drug with alcohol, giving it an ‘acceptability’ that needs to be addressed.3

1. Hibell B (2006) FESAT Monitoring Project -  Changes during the second half of 2005. FESAT (The European Foundation of Drug Helplines).

2. Keane M (2005) National Drugs Awareness Campaign. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 15: 7.

3. Sinclair H, Long J (2006) Health Service Executive facilitates workshop on cocaine. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 18: 11.

The Drugs/HIV Helpline in Ireland is a confidential, freephone, active listening service offering non-directive support, information, guidance and referral to anyone with a question related to substance use or HIV and sexual health. Set up in July 1997, the service is funded and managed by the Health Service Executive South Western Area on behalf of the HSE South Western, East Coast and Northern Areas. The freephone number is 1800 459 459. The Helpline manager is Aileen Dooley.


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