Home > Headshops – Risk assessments of the ‘legal’ highs

[North Dublin City and County Regional Drugs Task Force] Headshops – Risk assessments of the ‘legal’ highs. (26 Jan 2010)

A highly topical conference was held today on Tuesday, 26th January 2010 in Mullingar to discuss the pertinent issue of headshops.

The conference was aimed at service providers working in the area of substance misuse. Officially launched by Minister of State John Curran T.D. Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs with Special Responsibility for Community Affairs and the National Drugs Strategy; the conference was a great success with over 320 people in attendance.

This is the first conference of this scale that has been organised on the issue of headshops. It aimed to explore the social and health risks associated with the establishment of headshops, nationally. It is hoped that this will be the first step in encouraging people to actively assess the risks associated with ingesting alternative chemicals to illegal substances. Additional regional initiatives are currently being developed to try to ensure that people are informed about what they are taking.

It is not known specifically how many headshops operate across the country; however they are able to operate legally. They are retail outlets that offer legal alternative ‘highs’ to illegal substances. They have become an increasing phenomenon in Ireland in the last 12 months. They sell party pills, powders and smoking mixtures that contain chemicals that give similar effects to illegal substances. These chemicals are not illegal under current legislation and the products they sell are often termed ‘herbal’ which gives them a connation of being safer to consume. Headshops tell people that the pills and powders are not safe for human consumption, which allows them to get round other consumer protection legislation.

Although some headshops voluntarily operate an over 18’s policy, there are huge concerns across many local communities that this may not be enforced and of the effects that these chemicals may have, especially on young people in particular.

The conference today highlighted the risk assessment required by people wishing to consume these products. Speaking at the conference, Dr. Des Corrigan, Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) gave an overview of the products available in headshops, their ingredients and their effects. He expressed concern about the lack of basic safety data on many headshop products:

“Because the drugs they appear to contain have never been tested for safety in humans, we have to rely, at present, on user reports. These may not be reliable because people often don't know what exactly they have taken and there is no way of knowing how much has been used. Nor do we know what other drugs might have been taken by users which could change the effects and risks."

Earlier this year, the chemical benzylpiperazine (BZP), which was found in ‘party pills’, was made illegal in Ireland. Following on from this conference a submission will be made to the Office of the Minister for Drugs, containing details of the general concerns of frontline staff of substance misuse service providers. Whilst the government may be reviewing strategies to regulate headshops, it was very clear that local communities and drugs projects nationally still have major concerns.

Additional guest speakers on the day included Dr Jean Long; Head of Alcohol and Drug Research Unit, Health Research Board who discussed the European experience with Headshops, Dr Bobby Smyth; Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist discussed the psychological, psychiatric and physical risks associated with the use of 'legal highs' based upon research from abroad and the emerging experience of Clinicians in Ireland and Mr Noel O’Connor; Services Manager, Training Research and Social Policy, Merchants Quay Ireland discussed harm reduction initiatives and explained the legal highs.

The guest speaker’s presentations are available for the public to view as podcasts at www.drugs.ie. This website can also be used to access further information and support on substance misuse.

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Notes to the Editor:

Regional Drugs Task Forces were established from 2003 onwards. Regional Drugs Task Forces Task are based in each of the old 10 Regional Health Board areas and have been assigned the responsibility for ensuring the development of a co-ordinated response to tackling the substance misuse in the non - Local Drugs Task Forces (LDTF) areas of the country.

Regional Drugs Task Forces are the latest structure to be put in place to direct, support and resource the delivery of addiction services and community responses to problematic substance misuse. They work in accordance with the National Drugs Strategy (Interim) 2009-2016 and aim to address the regional issues of substance misuse under the following headings; supply reduction, treatment, rehabilitation, prevention and research.

For further information please contact:

Shani Williamson, Interim Co-ordinator of the North Dublin City and County Regional Drugs Task Force; telephone: 086 828 1181, email: shani@ndublinrdtf.ie

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