Head shop substance ban may drive businesses underground

The Government’s crackdown on a range of psychoactive substances sold in head shops, which has resulted in many of these outlets closing, at least temporarily, may drive these businesses underground, the chairperson of the HSE West’s regional health forum has warned.

Former mayor Cllr Padraig Conneely said while he welcomed the banning of drugs, such as mephedrone, BZP and synthetic cannabis, he was concerned that the shops, many of which specialise in legal alternatives to illegal substances, may operate underground in the future.

While banning a range of products sold in these shops is good I am concerned the market could go underground. That’s the last thing you want. It could be very dangerous.”

The Fine Gael councillor says the new laws came about largely due to strong public opposition to head shops, of which there were more than 100, operating nationwide. They were opening at one per week in January. There are four listed in Galway city and 19 in the west.

He outlines the Government’s action comes as the HSE prepares to roll out an information campaign in June and July about the dangers of using mood altering products sold at these outlets. The local health authority gave a presentation on head shops in Ireland at a recent meeting of its regional health forum in Limerick.

Dr Patrick O’Sullivan, the HSE’s acting director of public health in Limerick, said these shops seem to have originated in the US in the 1960s in cities with high student populations.

While there is a lack of “good evidence” on the dangers of substances sold in these outlets, it is thought that taking legal high drugs can worsen mental health problems, especially in people suffering from depression and anxiety, he explained. People suffering from schizophrenia are thought to be particularly at risk. It is advisable not to mix any legal high drug with either alcohol or other substances.

He warned once you start a “trip” you cannot stop it. “The immediate effects of some drugs can last for eight to 10 hours. Longer term effects such as anxiety and paranoia can last for weeks. Some drugs may result in flashbacks weeks after taking them.”

Oranmore Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, the Seanad’s spokesperson on education and science, says while the ban on head shop products was welcome the Government could have acted much sooner.

“For the past number of months while parents and communities have been calling for action the Government has stalled on this issue, insisting that they had to wait for approval from the European Commission before banning potentially harmful chemical substances which are being sold in head shops across the country. However, they have now invoked an ‘urgency procedure’ to allow substances such as BZP, mephedrone, and ‘spice’ to be banned with immediate effect. This could and should have been done long before now, preventing young people from legally buying products in head shops which mimic the effects of cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis.”

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