There has been an inrease in the amount of so called Head Shops all over the country in the last few years. These Head Shops sell “Legal Highs” which are designed to give people quick highs and a feeling of elation. They are dangerous and are causing untold damage and need strict regulation.
There are numerous reasons why people enter and buy products in these Head Shops, mainly they are looking for a quick stimulation in their lives, due to the fact that there is a lack of facilties in their local areas, unemployment is high, personal issues and a significant amount of bordem has set in, in their lives.
In one weekend in January this year, five individuals were seen at the Mercy Hospital because of adverse reactions to drugs purchased at ‘head shops’ in the city centre.
These head shops have reached national prominence in recent weeks but the reality is that they have become embedded in our larger cities and town over the past year and a half.
The problem with head shops is the products they sell which seek to recreate the same effects as illegal and highly addictive drugs as cocaine, ecstasy and hashish. Some of these ‘legal highs’ include Salvia divinorum, synthetic cocaine, snow blow and charge.
While these products are sold in legally owned and apparently tax compliant premises they share many of the same social ills and concerns of their illegal and proscribed counterparts. The reality is that we need to change the law. Currently the medicines control board has no control over products sold in these shops.
• Lack of regulation in production, strength, consistency – no one knows what exactly is contained in the products
• Lack of medical assessment in the use of these products – no medical advise is sought or given prior to or during use.
• Uncontrolled use of the products – they are frequently used in combination with other head shop products or in conjunction with other drugs e.g. prescribed medication or alcohol
• No control over the age of people who purchase these products.
In the National Drugs Strategy (NDS) there is specific mention of the fact that local community facicilties need to be improved so as young people will not get engaged in this type behaviour. With many new communities having sprung up over the last number of years, there is a real neccessity for the government to provide local community halls where younger people can get engaged in sports and not engage with Head Shop products.
Writing in the Irish Examiner in January, Dr Chris Luke stated that “ in the past few months, we have seen a relentless rise in the number of seriously distressed young adults and teenagers being hospitalised due to “head shop highs” with panic, paranoia, delirium, psychosis and chest pain.”
This is a damming indictment of the products which are sold legally in these shops. This is a damming indictment of the Government which profits from the sale of these products. It is a damming indictment of a drugs awareness and education programme that has failed. It is a damming indictment of a society that has failed to tackle the thorny issue of drug use and addiction.
Research clearly shows and has proven that are a certain percentage of people who use ‘soft drugs’ progress onto harder drugs. We know this is the case with tobacco, alcohol, hashish and other drugs. The reality is that for a significant proportion of young people who take these products then they will progress with devastating personal, familial and societal consequences which carry a huge economical cost in terms of health services required and productivity lost.
There is a clearly established link between the use of drugs and head shop products and emerging mental health need, through use with other drugs and alcohol it will result in increased social and public health difficulties.
I am calling on the government to make the commitment that they will provide funding for local community facilities, as it is part of one of the 5 key pillars of the NDS, Prevention.
In October 2006, the Irish Examiner revealed that drugs up to five times the strength of ecstasy were being sold over the counter in at least 15 head shops around Ireland, despite being classified as a class A drug in the US since 2001.
These party pills were finally banned in April when their main ingredient, BZP, was listed as a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
This made it a criminal offence to buy, sell or possess the drug, often called “pep pills”, which often come under the name Jax or Smileys.
Fine Gael has said the planning permission criteria for sex shops should also be applied to head shops.
I wish to talk about another of the key pillars of the NDS, in relation to Head Shops, Supply reduction. It states in the NDS that it is imperative to prevent the emergence of new markets, I believe that Head Shops are in effect a new market when it comes to drugs in this country, and they need to be addressed immediately.
I have conducted some online research, with regards Head Shops in Ireland. I discovered that many of the products on sale state that they are “not for human consumption.” One of these products called, which I selected at random “Oceanic” that is availible on the website, – www.Irishheadstores.com says that the product will “Give you wave after wave of amazing euphoric senstaions! A fantastic herbal high!”
Under this description, there are reviews carried out by people who have taken the product, which is “not for human consumption”, one said, “I took four lines on a night out”, another said, “No fuss, no mess two lines one pack and your set for the night.”
This product “Oceanic” is being sold as a bath salt, however it is clear from this website, that this product, which is just one example, is being used for human consumption, and the people selling these products are fully aware of this fact.
It is possible to order these products online, without the requirement of a date of birth being given. Computer literate teenagers in this country, with access to credit, laser or master cards are currently able to buy these products online.