Ireland among highest level of drug use in Europe as number of people with drug-related HIV increasing

Heroin was the most frequent cause of drug-related emergencies presenting at Dublin hospitals

IRELAND still has some of the highest drug use in Europe, a new report has revealed.

The study by the EU Drugs Agency in Lisbon found we are amongst the top four countries for taking cocaine and saw a fourfold rise in ecstasy consumption.

The report also noted an increase in the number of people who developed HIV through injecting narcotics during 2014 and 2015, with this put down to those shooting up the headshop drug ‘Snow Blow’.

However, usage of cannabis (14 per cent) is in line with the European average and the number of people seeking treatment for problems with headshop drugs in general has fallen sharply.

Heroin was the most frequent cause of drug-related emergencies presenting at Dublin hospitals compared to cocaine and ecstasy in London.

MDMA – the main ingredient in ecstasy – was blamed for contributing to 15 deaths in 2014, compared to just five in 2010.

Many of these including those of Wexford teenager Shane Cotton and college pals Liam Coffey and Michael Coleman, both 22, were down to pills also containing PMMA.

This takes effect more slowly than MDMA and can push users into thinking they have been given ‘weak’ ecstasy tablets and taking fatal doses as a result.

Seizures of cocaine, heroin and cannabis dropped considerably between 2014 and 2015.

But the report did reveal that anyone caught narcotrafficking in Ireland could face some of the stiffest sentencing for drug dealing in Europe.

Those arrested with a kilo of heroin here can expect to receive a 12 year tariff, while anyone nabbed with a kilo of cannabis would likely get at least five years.

It was impossible to compute the EU average because of the issue of suspended sentences, but only Lithuania, Slovakia and Greece handed out tougher penalties for dealing.

The EU Drugs Agency also warned that highly potent synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of heroin and morphine pose the biggest health threat across the continent.

27 of these new recreational drugs – classed as “New Psychoactive Substances” (NPS) – were detected in Ireland last year.

Forensic Science Ireland recently warned they were being imported into the country by post because they were more difficult to detect than more pungent drugs like cannabis or cocaine.

The FSI said: “They’re manufactured in eastern Europe and China and then they make their way through customs into people’s homes.

“So there’s just a different distribution of them. They’re probably underrepresented in the stats because guards aren’t picking them up on the street.”

The synthetics include fentanyl, an “exceptionally potent” opioid 600 times stronger than morphine which has been implicated in the death of rock star Prince.

Gardai and drug counsellors have already warned fentanyl is being mixed into heroin deals here, leading addicts to unwittingly take fatal overdoses.

Tony Duffin of the Ana Liffey Drug Project said: “This is not good, Ireland already has the equivalent of one fatal drug overdose a day and we are worried that, should this trend continue, we will see a marked increase in avoidable drug deaths.

“Fentanyl and related drugs like carfentanyl are many times more potent than heroin. Given the potency of these drugs, the risk of overdose is significant even among those who are very accustomed to using opiates.”

Commenting on the 2017 report, Dr Mairead O’Driscoll of the Health Research Board said it was important for authorities here to keep an eye on trends in order to understand what they are facing nationally.

She said: “If we monitor what drugs people are taking, what treatment services are in demand and what is driving drug-related deaths, we can provide clear evidence to drive service planning at a local level.

“However, cooperating across Europe also allows us to identify emerging trends and understand drug markets better which is essential for informed decision-making and developing appropriate responses.”

Read other news on the city site of Dublin.

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