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National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol

The NACDA was established in response to the drug problem to assist in our continued need to improve our knowledge and understanding of problem drug use.

The goal of the NACDA is to advise the Government on problem drug use in Ireland in relation to prevalence, prevention consequences and treatment based on our analysis and interpretation of research findings.

Renewed efforts needed to tackle sale of illegal 'headshop drugs' online

News Release, issued by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs
Thursday June 27, 2011

Renewed efforts are needed to tackle the sale of illegal ‘headshop drugs’ on the internet, according to new research from the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD).

The NACD study New Psychoactive Substances and the Outlets Supplying Them, released today to coincide with the UN International Day against Drug Abuse, reveals what is contained in various psychoactive products and how they are being supplied. It also makes a series of recommendations to Government. (Full report at www.nacd.ie.)

A research team from Dublin Institute of Technology undertook the study. Since the study began in early 2010 most of the substances which were openly sold in headshops have been made illegal (since May 2010) and many headshops have closed.

However, the research found that illegal ‘headshop style’ products (new psychoactive substances) remain available online and some are being sold as food products.

Róisín Shortall Minister of State at the Department of Health with Special Responsibility for Primary Care stated that “Since the NACD work in this area began, approximately 200 substances have been banned under the Misuse of Drugs regulations.  Also legislation was introduced that made it a criminal offence to sell or supply substances not prohibited under the Misuse of Drugs Act, but that have psychoactive effects on humans.  The number of headshops dropped from 102 early in 2010 to 11.  While this respresents huge progress in respect of availability and consumption of new psychoactive substances in Ireland, such substances continue to pose dangers, particularly to young people, through internet sales.

Informed by this research, I intend to take all necessary steps to minimise those risks, utilising interagency co-operation to tackle the issues involved.”

NACD Chairperson Dr. Des Corrigan highlighted how illegal headshop products continue to be sold online: “While the number of headshops decreased significantly as a result of Government action, a challenge still exists in terms of the monitoring of online outlets for the sale and supply of new psychoactive substances. There are a vast number of online retailers, many of which deliver to Ireland. The report found that while these online products may claim to be ‘legal’, the products which were analysed all contained illegal substances.

"In order to address this issue efforts could be made to examine existing models to curtail such trading, for example, through the co-operation between the Irish Medicines Board and the Customs authorities to monitor the sale of counterfeit medicines.

"The NACD also recommends that the Department of Health monitor the emergence of new headshop products and move speedily to ban them."  

Further recommendations include:

  • A centralised national database to collect data from Emergency Departments on alcohol and other drug use be developed and managed by an appropriate agency. This would facilitate the verification of the harm being caused by existing and newly emerging drugs.
  • The HSE National Drugs Awareness Campaign take account of user experiences of new psychoactive drugs. Also online campaigns such as, drugs.ie, should highlight the dangers of new psychoactive drugs as identified in the research report.
  • Ireland should review the proposals for legislation in the UK under which it is proposed to allow for the temporary banning of psychoactive substances while they are being fully assessed for their harmful effects.

Findings of the study include that:

  • Many users reported negative reactions to using ‘legal highs’ including black outs
  • The lack of consistency between the stated content and actual content of the psychoactive products
  • The combination of substances within individual products creates a potential risk of problematic drug interactions.
  • Lack of information on toxicity of new substances increases the possibilities of overdose.

49 products sourced from Irish headshops and online outlets were analysed. Products were mostly in powder or tablet form. One was a herbal smoking product. The research found that:

  • The five products purchased online underwent analysis and all five contained illegal drug substances.

  • All of the products purchased in headshops prior to the legislation on headshop products (May 2010), contained substances that are now illegal.

  • 79% of powder substances, 25% of tablet and 33% of capsule products had no ingredients listed.

Further Information

Ronan Cavanagh, Montague Communications: (01) 830 3116 or (086) 317 9731.
Jemma Hogan, Montague Communications: (01) 830 3116 or (085) 722 9024

Notes

The NACD
The National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) was established in response to the drug problem to assist in our continued need to improve our knowledge and understanding of problem drug use. The goal of the NACD is to advise the Government on problem drug use in Ireland in relation to prevalence, prevention consequences and treatment based on analysis and interpretation of research findings.

Research Team

A research team from the Centre for Social and Educational Research, Dublin Institute of Technology undertook the study commissioned by the NACD. The research team are Cathy Kelleher, Rachel Christie, Kevin Lalor, John Fox, Matt Bowden and Cora O’Donnell.

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