Law may target abuse of legally prescribed drugs, conference hears
THE DEPARTMENT of Health is considering legislative changes to limit the prescribing of legal drugs that are increasingly being abused, a seminar of the latest drugs trends has heard.
Dr Des Corrigan, former chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs, said proposed changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act would significantly restrict the length of time over which addictive drugs such as benzodiazepines could be prescribed. Restrictions on the number of doctors who may prescribe such drugs and on the prescriptions used are also being considered.
Tranquillisers such as Valium, Xanax and Mogadon should be prescribed at the lowest dose possible for the shortest period possible, he said. However, these rules were not being followed, and two groups in particular – middle-aged women and heroin users – were abusing them.
Dr Corrigan criticised the relative lack of attention paid to drug deaths compared with road deaths. In 2009, 357 people died of drug overdoses, more than died on the roads, yet the budget for road safety was far greater than anything available to reduce drug deaths, he said. “The balance seems wrong.” Most drug overdoses were preventable but public opinion was not engaged enough to tackle the problem.
Dr Corrigan said many of the illegal drugs growing in popularity were not new but owed their increased availability to the spread of books showing how they were made. This category included designer drugs, “legal highs” and head shop drugs marketed as “bath salts” or “plant food”.
“It’s not that chemists in China or India are dreaming up endless new drugs. They’re simply copying recipes that have been around for years,” he told the seminar organised by Community Awareness of Drugs.
There was no reason for drug workers to be frightened or feel inexperience in dealing with new substances, he said. “A drug is a drug is a drug and new skill sets are not required to deal with new forms. There is, in any case, a finite number of drugs that can affect the human brain.”
Ireland was unique in Europe in that a retail industry sprang up around head shops from 2005 on, rather than being concentrated on the internet, he pointed out. New laws gave gardaí the power to close head shops selling drugs in 2010 but more than 10 shops were still open and selling paraphernalia and, in some cases, cannabis seeds, he said.
Dr Corrigan said the cannabis available was a totally different drug from that of even five years ago because of the development of high-strength variations such as skunk. The cannabis plants now being cultivated in grow-houses using hydroponic systems and intense lighting had far higher concentrations of THC. They also had lower concentrations of another chemical, CBD. THC gives rise to the euphoric reaction when cannabis is smoked. CBD is an anti-psychotic that protects the brain.
The Department of Health confirmed last night it was reviewing misuse of drugs regulations with a view to imposing additional controls on some prescription medicines. “The proposed amendments to legislation will include the introduction of an offence of unauthorised possession, as well as import and export controls on benzodiazepines. It is also proposed to tighten the prescribing and dispensing rules applying to these drugs,” a spokeswoman said.