The Minister with Responsibility for Drugs says young people believe the “just say no to drugs” message is “a lie” and that a more realistic policy must be adopted.
Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin commended advice like "it is less risky to take half [a pill]" being offered by student unions in Trinity, UCD and DIT as part of a new campaign, and said instructions on drug use should not be issued from a moralistic standpoint.
“Young people who talk to me say that they can’t connect with the ‘Just say no’ message because it’s a lie.
“They say it’s a lie because they know what their parents were doing for the last 15 years, their uncles, their aunts - the entire society didn’t say no and doesn’t say no,” he told an official launch ceremony in Dublin’s Mansion House on Friday.
"I think we are now at the stage in Ireland where we can have a more realistic debate about the realities of drug use and substance misuse that's rooted in the real experiences of people… what [student unions] are doing is dealing in reality," he added.
‘What’s in The Pill?’
The “What’s In The Pill?” campaign aims to inform students of potentially harmful substances contained in illicit pills such as ecstasy, and offers guidance on best practice if students do take pills.
Tips include taking breaks from dancing, never mixing drugs, and to wait for two hours if a pill has had no perceived effect rather than immediately taking another.
The issue of illegal highs came to the fore earlier this year following the death of 18 year-old student Ana Hick, who collapsed outside a Dublin nightclub in a case which was linked to the use of such drugs.
It followed a spate of deaths across Northern Ireland in 2014 which were linked to a batch of "speckled cross" tablets containing potentially toxic ingredients, including 4,4-Dimethylaminorex.
DIT welfare officer Lysette Golden said: "You can't stop people taking drugs, you just can't, it's impossible.
“We tell them, ‘This is the information you need to know if you’re going to do this, but we don’t promote drug use’,” she said, likening the approach to handing out condoms to promote safe sex.
A recent survey conducted by the Union of Students in Ireland suggested two out of every five Irish students use some form of illegal drugs, and Tony Duffin of campaign partners the Ana Liffey Drug Project said the issue has become incredibly complex.
“It is complex, there’s quite a lot of new psychoactive substances out there… There is a realisation and an acceptance of the fact that people do take drugs, so we need to keep people as safe as possible, and that discourse has shifted this year,” he said.