The HSE is “keeping a close eye” on the reopened night-time economy on the back of reports in Britain and the North of possible spiking of women with drugs by people using needles.
A number of police forces in Britain say they are conducting investigations into a multitude of ‘injection spiking’ reports and at least three young men have been arrested so far.
However, much remains unclear about how the spiking is done and what drugs could be involved.
Launching a drug awareness campaign at the weekend, the HSE clinical lead for addiction services, Eamon Keenan, expressed sympathy for the women involved.
'Support and understanding'
“For any young woman affected, this is terrible and they need to be given support and understanding,” said Dr Keenan.
“We haven’t any solid evidence what substance it could be, we have not seen any toxicology reports, we haven’t seen any needle analysis, so it is difficult to know, at the minute, what is involved.
“We are certainly keeping a close eye on it and the guards are aware of it, but we need to have more information. I’m not sure what substance would cause that so quickly.”
Some medical experts in Britain have said people would usually feel they are being injected and that, typically, it would take a number of seconds for enough of a substance to be injected.
“I don’t want to belittle the experiences of those women who have suffered adverse consequences as a result of something happening, it’s just that we need more information,” said Dr Keenan.
The HSE drug chief said it highlighted the need for people “to be vigilant” when out socialising.
The issue of looking out for yourself and your friends is at the core of the drug harm reduction campaign, which was deliberately launched to coincide with the reopening of the nightclub and event scene.
The #IfYouGoGoSlow initiative brings together event promoters, DJs, dance music magazines, the Union of Students in Ireland, and health authorities. The launch event was also attended by gardaí.
It follows the publication last month of a report of a HSE expert committee which called for a pilot ‘back of house’ drug testing scheme at festivals where people could anonymously drop tablets in for testing.
The Department of Health backed the recommendation and funding has been made available for the pilots in 2022, but the position of both An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice is not yet clear.
Speaking at the campaign launch, Dr Keenan said there is a lot of pent-up demand among young people to socialise and that while not all young people will be taking drugs, some will, and they were trying to reach out to them.
“People’s tolerance may have changed, they are not as able for substances as they have been previously,” he said.
In addition, the market has changed and tablets in Europe and the UK are more potent than previously; the purity of those tablets has gone up, and so has the risk.”
He said there were also fresh reports, most recently from Israel, about the dangers posed by synthetic cannabinoids.
He said event organisers and the night-time music scene, which traditionally were somewhat reluctant to get explicitly involved in drug harm reduction campaigns, were shifting in their approach.
He said it was really important that gardaí and the HSE engage on this issue and said the launch, attended by the senior gardaí, was an indication that they were prepared to do so.
At a higher level, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health needed to be involved, he said.
In relation to Garda concerns about a ‘back of house’ drug testing system, he accepted there were genuine issues.
“I do appreciate the legal difficulties gardaí face in relation to that, but it is happening in other jurisdictions and happening successfully, and gardaí are aware of that.”
A water fountain or ‘hydration station’ — a practical response to the dangers of stimulant-induced overheating — and an amnesty bin formed part of the launch.
“One thing the HSE can be involved in is training people who work in the night-time economy in relation to substances and [creating an environment] where young people feel more comfortable to come forward to staff and a more understanding and empathetic approach by staff,” said Dr Keenan.
He said the HSE had done a lot of work in bringing together relevant and up-to-date information on its website, www.drugs.ie.
Advice in the ‘If You Go, Go Slow’ campaign includes:
- Club drugs such as MDMA and cocaine are increasing in strength throughout Europe, increasing the risk of overdose. New substances can appear in pills, powders, crystals, and cannabis products;
- It’s always safer not to use drugs at all. If you do, be aware of the current risks to your health as nightlife reopens in Ireland;
- High-strength drugs and new drugs are appearing, increasing the risk of overdose at this time. Contaminants may also be present. A number of alerts have been recently issued in the UK about MDMA pills, powders, and crystals found in nightlife settings;
- If it’s your first time going to nightclubs and events, decide if this is the right time to use drugs, it may not be for you. You could react differently in new settings, with new people, if your tolerance to drugs has changed or if you have concerns about your mood and mental health;
- Some people may feel they have to ‘make up’ for lost time which could lead to using substances in extra risky ways. Remember to mind yourself and look out for your friends. If you go, go slow
Speaking at the launch, minister of state for the National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan, urged people to heed the advice
However, he said organisers and owners also had responsibilities.
“It is of the utmost importance that those who put on events and festivals within the night-time economy build harm reduction and prevention measures into their events," said Mr Feighan.
"This has been recommended in the report from the Emerging Drug Trends and Drug Checking Working Group, which was recently published by the HSE.
“It is imperative that when people go out to enjoy themselves that they can do so in a safe environment and the provision of these harm reduction messages and services will ensure that.”
Source: Cormac O'Keeffe, The Irish Examiner, 27/10/21