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Dublin: 13 °C Monday 30 May, 2016

Cork house party shows the ‘don’t take drugs’ message just won’t cut it

Six young people were hospitalised after a house party in the south of Cork. The issue can no longer be ignored, writes Graham de Barra.

Graham de Barra

THE TRAGIC CASE in Cork is a reminder of the failures in our approach to drugs in responding after-the-fact to emergencies instead of putting in place proactive measures to identify contaminates and high-purity drugs in the market.

People are posed with health risks when consuming illegal drugs by virtue of them being unregulated and policy should aim to reduce the harm.

82% of students have tried illegal drugs in their lifetime, according to the National Student Drug survey and so it affects people from all walks of life. Everyone could imagine at least one relative or friend that could be part of this 82%.

Promoting safety

We need a health system that provides for them and allows them to be safe. Drug testing facilities are available in the UK, Spain and Portugal as part of a health-based approach and they are saving lives.

As we dispell early speculation and rumours of the case in Cork, it’s important to repeat the facts of the case here. 25I-NBOMe was consumed at a party of young people in Cork on Monday night.

It’s important to remember that doses vary for different drugs. For example, there are 2,000 doses for one gram of 25I- NBOMe (one gram being about the size of a €2 coin). Without information on contents and dosing, there is no sure way for a person to know how much to take as well as what they are taking.

Drug-testing facilities reduce risk by providing lab reports for drug contents. When taken in a holistic approach to include education around dosing and harm reduction, this approach could save lives and prevent a situation like this from occurring in the future.

The issue can no longer be ignored. That is why we are holding an important conversation on drug-testing and harm reduction at our upcoming symposium next week in Dublin.

Political engagement in policy 

However, some of our elected officials think the issue can be swept under the rug, thus undermining the importance of this debate. One politician responded to our invitation saying,

I cannot attend. I would think that lobbying for changes to legislation during an election period would be a waste of your time.

The fear of engaging with this topic during election time is not an adequate excuse and it shows how ineffective certain politicians are. The health and wellbeing of our citizens is not any less important at election time as any other time.

Our elected officials should never be afraid to discuss policies. It will be very clear who the honest politicians are going by who attends the symposium. It will be the brave politicians that engage with difficult topics that are worth voting for in this election.

The lesson we need to take from this is that health services need to take a proactive approach in providing information and safer guidelines to people as part of a drug testing programme. This could include having drugs tested with lab equipment at festivals and nightclubs with cooperation of the gardaí and festival organisers as trialled in Boom Festival in Portugal and the Manchester Warehouse Project.

Saving lives

In these cases, drugs and their contents are displayed on stage screens, by mobile app or online. Providing emergency warnings before a person consumes a drug could potentially save their life and protecting a person’s life should always the goal of policy.

Less emergencies would mean a reduction in the rate of ambulance call-outs and accident and emergency resources. By not actively collecting data of drug samples in the market, the job of emergency doctors is made more difficult.

In this case there was a 24-hour wait to have the drugs tested and it can take weeks to find out precise contents. Only by identifying contents before someone gets into difficulty will we be able to treat emergencies more effectively and prevent misuse of drugs in certain situations.

This more honest approach may also be a more effective way to educate people and it could allow more opportunities for people to seek help, ask questions and learn.

Perhaps the closest country to home is Wales with the WEDINOS project, which tests drug samples that are mailed into a government-funded laboratory. Josie Smith of Public Health Wales leads this project and says, “We are funded by the Welsh government with the recognition that people will experiment with a range of drugs because they are far more accessible than ever before”.

Wales has opted for a pragmatic approach to drugs and Ireland should of the same.

Now is an important time as ever to discuss drug policy and Josie Smith will be presenting the health-based approach in Wales at the upcoming symposium.

Graham de Barra is Director of Help Not Harm, a campaign supporting a shift of drugs from criminal justice to public health in order to improve access to harm reduction, education and treatment. The conference will be held on Thursday 28 January in Buswells Hotel, Dublin at 9am. If you are interested in attending the Help Not Harm Symposium, please email grahamdebarra@helpnotharm.org for further details.

Read: The drug that left six people in hospital has been identified>

Read: Man (20s) arrested after ‘designer drug’ puts six people in hospital in Cork>

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