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26/10/2021

New report highlights emerging nightlife drug trends and harm reduction responses

The move to a health-based response rather than a criminal one is welcomed

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The report focuses on nightlife drug use rather than addiction

The changing drug culture in Ireland has led to a need for new healthcare services and reponses.

That is according to a new HSE report ‘Emerging Drug Trends and Drug Checking Working Group.’ 

The report was published on Friday by the HSE National Social Inclusion Office. It reviews drug use and health responses among people who use drugs in nightlife spaces.

One of the main issues that arose was that there was limited information on the composition of substances consumed in Ireland. Currently, dentification is mainly being utilised for law enforcement purposes that does not inform health communications, interventions and warnings. 

Dr Eamon Keenan, HSE’s National Clinical Lead-Addiction Services said:  “For some time, the topic of substance use in the context of nightlife settings has received little attention in research, policy and practice. 

“We are generally well informed about people who attend addiction services and we do have general population surveys. However, this may not be an accurate representation of the current drug situation in Ireland as there are some groups who may never present to our services and are at risk of harm. 

“These groups require new and tailored responses.”

The report recognises that an emerging stimulant and poly drug culture among new user groups is currently a major issue of concern across Europe and here in Ireland.

“The proliferation of stimulant drugs in Ireland is occurring during a period when increased purity and potency of substances is a cause of concern for health services,” said Dr Keenan.

“We have identified a need to improve research and develop new services in response to these trends. 

“The current situation is particularly relevant as nightlife resumes throughout Europe. Nightlife outreach and drug analysis are recognised ways in which we can engage with young, hard to reach populations.”

The Working Group was established as part of the National Drug Strategy ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery: A health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland’ in 2019. Its purpose was to review evidence regarding issues related to nightlife drug use, health and social responses and the provision of drug checking and monitoring services to reduce drug-related harms.
Three new national working groups are recommended to plan research, training, emergency responses and scientific oversight with an aim to improve emerging trend and nightlife responses.

Dr Keenan said: “From a health perspective, it is recognised that drug monitoring has potential to reduce drug-related harm and protect lives by identifying when extra risky substances are in circulation. 

“Dutch examples have shown the value of real time alerts in preventing drug-related deaths when dangerous substances emerge on the market.” 

Minister of State for Public Health, Well Being and National Drug Strategy Frank Feighan TD whose Sligo-Leitrim constituency includes part of south Donegal welcomed the report. 

“The report is timely in light of the Programme for Government’s commitment to increase and support quality drug testing services, particularly at festivals,” he said. 

“Drug use is always a cause for concern. However, people who use drugs within the night-time economy need to be at the forefront of our minds, as Covid restrictions are relaxed, and people's tolerances may have lowered and the potency and make-up of drugs being taken may have changed. 

“The report's recommendations are based on a health-led approach to drug use in the night-time economy, and provide a pathway to deliver harm reduction services and to monitor drug trends in these settings. 

“I am looking forward to working with stakeholders to progress these recommendations.”

 This report covers a range of issues relevant to the area of nightlife drug use, health and social response, research on nightlife populations and the provision of drug checking services and includes a series of recommendations in line with the National Drug and Alcohol Strategy. 

Further information and support in relation to substance use can be found at www.drugs.ie or by calling the HSE Drug and Alcohol Helpline on 1800 459 459 which operates Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5.30pm. 

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