15 April 2010 Edition
Another View by Eoin Ó Broin
Head shops – a public health issue
There are more than 100 shops selling mephedrone-related products across Ireland. Labelled ‘snow’, ‘blow’ or ‘bath salts’ these legal highs have been linked to over 20 deaths in Britain and the suicide of 17 year old Lee Campbell in Netwonabbey, Co. Antrim, last month.
Though the debate surrounding the sale of legal highs has been marked by a degree of hysteria, there is a widespread and genuine public concern over the health implications of mephedrone. Unfortunately local and central government has been slow to act. Legislation banning a number of legal highs has been promised in the summer but has not yet been published. In the meantime head shops continue to operate and people continue to be at risk from the effects of over the counter toxic psychoactive substances.
While mainstream politicians sit on their hands, a broad coalition in opposition to the sale of mephedrone related products has emerged involving local communities, community and drugs workers, charities and medical professionals. Charities working with young people, the homeless and chaotic drug users have all expressed concern over the impact of legal highs on their client group. The Irish Medical Organisation heard doctors at their annual conference last week describe the worrying increase in methedrone related admissions to hospitals.
All have described their first hand experience of the negative mental and physical health impacts of legal highs, particularly on vulnerable young people.
Sinn Féin has been to the fore in this broad coalition. At a local level party activists have mobilised as part of broader community campaigns. At a national level Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD and Junior Minister Gerry Kelly MLA have been to the fore in proposing a comprehensive response to the issue.
In the coming weeks Ó Snodaigh will publish a Bill to establish a new regulatory authority, with powers to identify and classify non-medical psychoactive substances and to prohibit or otherwise restrict and license their production and sale.
The new body, which would be made up of health, drugs and law enforcement professionals and local communities, would work in tandem with other drugs and public health bodies and the Governments National Drugs Strategy.
If the Government and opposition in Leinster House are serious about addressing the public health concerns related to mephedrone they will actively support Sinn Féin’s Bill and ensure its speedy passage through the Oireachtas.
In the meantime local communities must continue to campaign for the closure of any shop that sells mephedrone related products. Public pressure must be brought to bear on head shops themselves and on landlords who lease properties to head shops.
In December 2008 the Food Safety Authority recalled all pork products from Irish shops after it was revealed that contaminated feed had found its way into nine pig farms. Millions of euro and hundreds of jobs were lost in the pig industry as a result.
If such a swift and professional response was possible to this public health scare it is hard to understand why the government continues to drag its heals over mephedrone.