Move on head shops 'not enough'

 

The Government’s move to ban several substances sold in head shops does not go far enough and will fail to halt the trade in so-called legal highs, Opposition parties have warned.

The ban, announced last night, will come into effect in June and will apply to products known as Spice, Charge+, Snow Blow, White Ice, Magic, Liquid Ecstasy, BZP Derivatives and Mephedrone.

The Government said the move had been taken in response to public concern over the sale of these substances and the rapid proliferation of head shops across the country in recent months.

But Opposition parties claimed such establishments would still find legal loopholes to sell alternative products, and further regulations were needed to control the trade.

“The reality is that head shops currently operate as legitimate businesses, and until proper legislation is implemented they will be still able to sell legal highs containing a variety of unknown ingredients, many of which pose very serious health risks,” Fine Gael spokeswoman Catherine Byrne said.

Ms Byrne said although the ban finally brought the Republic in line with other European countries, there was a need for further regulation, as well as licensing laws for head shops to monitor the sale of legal highs.

Labour health spokeswoman Jan O’Sullivan described the announcement as a necessary and welcome development but insisted it would not address the problem on its own.

“A range of responses are necessary if these shops are to be controlled and regulated so that the public, and particularly young people, can be protected from harm,” she said.

The Minister in charge of the National Drugs Strategy, John Curran, said today his department was looking at other measures to regulate the head shop industry by way of planning laws and consumer laws.

Mr Curran said there had been a rapid proliferation of these shops across the country in recent months, with many selling a range of dangerous substances. He said the Government will notify the European Union of this list and by June these products will be illegal for sale or possession.

“In addition the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and the gardaí will continue to monitor products that are sold in headshops. Any product that proves to have any detrimental health effects will be added to this controlled list for banning,” Mr Curran said.

Dr Bobby Smyth, consultant psychiatrist at the Health Service Executive Youth Drug and Alcohol service in Tallaght, described the Government’s as “positive and prompt”.

Dr Smyth said: "The challenge will be that when the next batch of the substances arrive on the scene in six months or two years time that they respond as quickly"

Asked whether the ban covered enough of the substances currently available, Dr Smyth said described ban as “a reasonable first step,” saying the Government had moved on the substances that are causing the most harm.

"The pace at which its growing has really caught many in the drug services by surprise. I wasn’t seeing teenagers presenting with problems relating to these substances two years ago, but now they represent a significant cohort of patients.

It’s particularly concerning when you consider that these potent drugs which heroin users are switching to are freely available for young people to buy in the shops,” he said.

Welcoming the ban, Dr Des Corrigan, chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD), said the substances on the banned list were in line with the committee’s recommendations to Minister Curran.

He said there was an immediate threat to public health from several materials being sold in head shops.

Speaking on RTE's Morning Ireland, Dr Corrigan said certain synthetic cannabinoids or so-called SPICE products were found to about a 100 times more powerful than the main chemical in normal cannabis.

There was also a concern about the use of the would-be amphetamine mephedrone, often sold as bath salts, as a number of heroin users were known to be injecting the substance and “developing quite severe physical and psychological complications as a result”.

Asked if the ban would only serve to force the trade onto the black market, Dr Corrigan insisted the Government needed to send out a clear message to young people that these chemicals were not safe.

“Even if you had a regulated head shop system, some of these products are so dangerous that no regulatory authority would allow them on the market. Many of these products will unfortunately end up on the black market anyway.”

“Banning these substances is sending out a clear message that these materials are not safe, which is important as a lot of young people think these materials have been legalised by the use of this phrase ‘legal highs,’ but nobody has certified these chemicals as being safe of opr good quality,” he said.

Gardaí are also investigating two suspected arson attacks on head shops in Dublin city centre in recent weeks. Garda sources believe the outlets may have been targeted by drug dealers angered at losing business.