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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 19 March, 2019
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Drug users in Dublin consuming entire trays of prescription tablets

“People might not associate their intake of pills with increasing their overdose risk,” says Ana Liffey Drug Project CEO Tony Duffin.

Benzos. Discarded benzodiazepine packaging Source: Daragh Brophy/TheJournal.ie

THE USE OF prescription medication is on the rise among drug users in Dublin’s north inner city as tablets move from the medicine cabinet to the streets. 

“In the last year we’ve become increasingly concerned about the use of them,” says Tony Duffin, CEO of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, which is spearheading a campaign aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of street tablets.

According to Duffin, some drug users – who are also taking other drugs – are consuming “trays” of street tablets. “Yes, people take heroin, people take cocaine, alcohol, cannabis etc. But tablets are very much a part of that now.”

A tray is whole packet of prescription drugs, also known as a ‘blister pack’. 

“These days, if someone says they’ve taken some benzos that means they’ve taken a tray,” says Duffin. And that could mean taking 10 or more tablets at a time.

“People might not associate their intake of pills with increasing their overdose risk, either” he says.

Launching today, ‘Do You Use Street Tablets’ campaign aims to inform users and project workers about the risks associated with taking ‘street’ tablets. In other words, tablets which have been diverted from legal markets, fake tablets or home pressed tablets.

Client surveys conducted by Ana Liffey Drug Project reveal that nearly half of respondents reported use of unprescribed benzodiazepines – commonly known as benzos – in the last week while almost 1 in 4 reported use of unprescribed z-drugs and 1 in 10 reported using unprescribed gabapentin – a painkiller designed to prevent serizures – in the last week.

Benzos include Valium and Xanax, while Z-drugs include Zopiclone and Zaleplon, which are used to treat insomnia. 

There has also been a significant number of drug related deaths in Ireland associated with these drugs.

For example, diazepam – a benzo – was implicated in almost one third of all poisoning deaths between 2004 and 2015 in Ireland. Deaths related to Pregabalin – typically a capsule – increased from 26 deaths in 2014 to 44 in 2015.

Tablets. Source: Shutterstock/Thongchai S

‘Harm reduction’

The North Inner City Drug & Alcohol Task Force has been collecting data alongside Ana Liffey Drug Project volunteers on drug trends in Dublin’s north inner city and recently identified street tablets a key trend.

Drug use has shifted and changed in Dublin’s north inner city over the years. The uptake in street pills in Dublin can specifically be traced back to crop failure in the Middle East in 2011 which led to a heroin shortage in Dublin.

Drug users deprived of their usual fix increasingly turned to benzos instead – leading to a rise in addiction cases.

Last July, the Ana Liffey Drug Project launched a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of using cocaine. Fact sheet and posters surrounding the use of cocaine has now been widely distributed, says Duffin, particularly in universities. 

Similarly, the aim of ‘Do You Use Street Tablets’ campaign – which includes distributing fact sheets and posters with information on street tablets – is to tailor information about street tablets to both the drug user and those working in addiction services. 

“One of the things that we don’t people to do is to suddenly stop taking street tablets, either,” says Duffin. “The withdrawal symptoms can be very, very dangerous and difficult.”

“This is about getting harm reduction information to people so they’re better informed about the risks they’re taking. And to the workers, those on the ground and to let the wider population know that this happening.”

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