Home > Patterns of new psychoactive substance use among patients attending for opioid substitution treatment in Ireland.

Millar, Sean (2021) Patterns of new psychoactive substance use among patients attending for opioid substitution treatment in Ireland. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 79, Autumn 2021, p. 24.

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Until 2010, new psychoactive substances (NPS) could be bought legally in headshops in Ireland. However, recent finding from the Irish National Drug and Alcohol Survey 2019–201 show that the prevalence of recent NPS use remains very low, at 0.8% among 15–64-year-olds (compared with 3.5% in 2010/11). This perhaps highlights the continued impact of the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010, which made the sale, import, export, or advertisement of unregulated psychoactive substances for human consumption illegal. The Act also gave appropriate powers to An Garda Síochána and the Courts to intervene quickly to prevent trade in a non-criminal procedure via the use of prohibition and closure orders. Nevertheless, research on NPS use is lacking in Ireland, in particular among opioid-dependent patients, who are likely to be at increased risk of consumption.

A 2021 study2 investigated reasons for NPS use, administration, adverse effects, and consumption in the previous three months among patients attending an opium substitution clinic. In this research, published in the journal Heroin Addiction and Related Clinical Problems, data were collected on 213 subjects (69.5% male) by the National Drug Treatment Centre, Dublin through an interviewer-administrated survey.

It was found that a total of 133 (61.5%) participants had used NPS at least once and 14 (6.6%) had used NPS in the last three months. Being older at the time of interview and when first consuming illicit substances were found to be inversely associated with NPS consumption. Ninety-three participants (71.5%) bought NPS for the first time from a headshop, 20.8% from a friend, and 6.9% from a dealer. After the closure of headshops, dealers were the most common source of NPS. Cathinones were the most commonly consumed NPS class. One-third of participants injected NPS, while almost one-half of participants indicated having experienced no adverse effects, although paranoia did occur frequently.

The authors noted that only 11% of participants reported ongoing NPS use, implying that making the supply of NPS illegal reduced their consumption. They also suggest that as a high proportion of participants administered NPS intravenously, the closure of headshops is likely to have led to improved health outcomes among this group of patients.

1   Mongan D, Millar SR and Galvin B (2021) The 2019–20 Irish National Drug and Alcohol Survey: main findings. Dublin: Health Research Board. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/34287/

2  McCarron P, Smyth BP, Carroll G, et al. (2021) Patterns of new psychoactive substance use among opioid-dependent patients attending for opioid substitution treatment. Heroin Addict Relat Clin Probl, Early online. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/34176/

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