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Syringe analysis shows increase in methamphetamine use and cocaine-heroin mixture

Heroin was present in nearly all samples, with cocaine in close to 90%.

Image: Shutterstock

A PILOT PROJECT from the HSE and Merchants Quay Ireland which analysed 155 needles and syringes found that using both heroin and cocaine has grown among drug users.

100 syringes and needles were accessed from Dublin, while 27 from Longford and 28 from Offaly were categorised together as the Midlands.

Syringe analysis is a scientific approach that involves obtaining information through the analysis of the content of used syringes to help identify drug use trends at that particular point in time.

Heroin was the most prominent injected drug at 93.3% in Dublin and 98.2% in the Midlands Region.

Cocaine was present in 86.5% of Dublin syringes and 89.1% of syringes in the Midlands.

This overlap shows that cocaine injecting has re-emerged as part of a polydrug pattern -using multiple drugs in the same time period- along with heroin, known as ‘speedballing’.

Other new drug trends have been identified such as the presence of the synthetic cathinone 3-MMC (11.3% Dublin, 23.6% Midlands) for the first time in this population, and higher levels of Methamphetamine use (32.6% Dublin, 18.2% Midlands).

The third most used drug was methadone, present in 61.8% of Dublin syringes and 50.9% of Midlands.

Speaking at the launch of the new report, Prof Eamon Keenan, National Clinical Lead, Addiction Services said: 

“The volatile nature of the drug market is a healthcare concern as new and more potent substances, including synthetic opioids continue to emerge on the European drug market.”

“I am pleased to see that this project did not identify the emergence of synthetic opioids in the syringe samples; however, we must continue to monitor this situation closely.”

60% of syringes were observed to have blood residue present which could give rise to drugs or metabolites being extracted from the blood, and also may indicate unsafe injecting practices.

Most needles and syringes were determined to be from harm reduction services, while a much smaller proportion were longer and more likely to have caused serious damage to the body.

Paracetamol and caffeine were also present in over 80% of samples as cutting agents.

The report has recommended the implementation of the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre and that the syringe analysis project be done annually in order to better understand drug trends on a longer timescale.

It stated that expansion of the project to other user groups such as attendees of the Club Drug Clinic Ireland can provide greater market monitoring opportunities to inform harm reduction responses.

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