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The headshop ban pretty much worked, people stopped abusing headshop drugs

A new Trinity study shows that treatment for ‘legal highs’ dropped to virtually nil

Image: Flickr/Infomatique

IN THE YEAR after the ban on headshops was introduced, those presenting to treatment services for the abuse of ‘legal highs’ dropped to virtually nil.

That’s according to a new study of the impact of the 2010 ban by researchers at Trinity College Dublin.

The study looked at two separate groups of adolescents attending drug and alcohol treatment services in Dublin. It sought to examine the problematic use of novel psychoactive substances (NPS), or so-called ‘legal highs’, among those seeking treatment.

The first group attended the service before the laws were introduced by Health Minister Mary Harney and the second group attended in the six-months afterwards.

In the first group, just over one in three (34%) were found to be problematic users of NPS drugs. In the second group, 0% of those in treatment had a problem with NPS abuse.

The study points to the effectiveness of the legislation in terms of shutting down headshops across the country.

Fewer shops

In May 2010 there were 102 in Ireland, this dropped to about 12 in October 2010 after the government had introduced two separate legislative measures aimed at curbing the use of NPS.

One of the authors of the study, TCD public health lecturer Dr Bobby Smyth, claims that the results of the survey show that the kind of drugs being sold in headshops are not being used to the same extent any more.

They’ve also not been driven underground as had been feared, he claims.

“Much of the discourse among academics in this area and many critics of the proposed legislative changes suggested that banning NPS and effectively closing ‘headshops’ would simply drive supply into other more criminal supply networks and that use would therefore continue unabated.”

However, the findings have shown that the implementation of legislation, targeted primarily at the vendors of NPS, did indeed coincide with a fall in NPS use among this high risk group of teenagers who attend a drug and alcohol treatment service.

Asked whether users had simply been using other illegal substances like cocaine and ecstasy instead, Smyth pointed to the study saying the evidence did not bear this out.

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The study found that, among the two groups surveyed, not only did the problematic abuse of headshop drugs fall but that the use of cocaine and amphetamines also fell.

The report does note, however, that the study is on a relatively small scale.

Smyth adds that a more interesting comparison will be made when the next survey from the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA) is released.

The previous drug prevalence survey was carried out in 2010-2011 around the time when the use of NPS were at their peak.

Smyth adds that the banning of headshops and its effect in reducing consumption suggests that the legalisation and regulation of other drugs could lead to an increase.

This should not be considered right now, especially given our problems with alcohol, he argues. ”I think we’re the last country in the world that should be considering expanding the menu of intoxicants available.”

Read: Two new legal highs are being discovered for sale per week >

Read: ‘You can shop for it like a pint of milk’ – Co Down family blame legal highs for son’s death >

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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