The HSE is “keeping a close eye” on the reopened night-time economy on the back of reports in Britain and the North of possible spiking of women with drugs by people using needles.
A number of police forces in Britain say they are conducting investigations into a multitude of ‘injection spiking’ reports and at least three young men have been arrested so far.
However, much remains unclear about how the spiking is done and what drugs could be involved.
Launching a drug awareness campaign at the weekend, the HSE clinical lead for addiction services, Eamon Keenan, expressed sympathy for the women involved.
‘Support and understanding’
“For any young woman affected, this is terrible and they need to be given support and understanding,” said Dr Keenan.
“We haven’t any solid evidence what substance it could be, we have not seen any toxicology reports, we haven’t seen any needle analysis, so it is difficult to know, at the minute, what is involved.
“We are certainly keeping a close eye on it and the guards are aware of it, but we need to have more information. I’m not sure what substance would cause that so quickly.”
Some medical experts in Britain have said people would usually feel they are being injected and that, typically, it would take a number of seconds for enough of a substance to be injected.
“I don’t want to belittle the experiences of those women who have suffered adverse consequences as a result of something happening, it’s just that we need more information,” said Dr Keenan.
The HSE drug chief said it highlighted the need for people “to be vigilant” when out socialising.
The issue of looking out for yourself and your friends is at the core of the drug harm reduction campaign, which was deliberately launched to coincide with the reopening of the nightclub and event scene.
The #IfYouGoGoSlow initiative brings together event promoters, DJs, dance music magazines, the Union of Students in Ireland, and health authorities. The launch event was also attended by gardaí.
It follows the publication last month of a report of a HSE expert committee which called for a pilot ‘back of house’ drug testing scheme at festivals where people could anonymously drop tablets in for testing.
The Department of Health backed the recommendation and funding has been made available for the pilots in 2022, but the position of both An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice is not yet clear.
Speaking at the campaign launch, Dr Keenan said there is a lot of pent-up demand among young people to socialise and that while not all young people will be taking drugs, some will, and they were trying to reach out to them.
“People’s tolerance may have changed, they are not as able for substances as they have been previously,” he said.
In addition, the market has changed and tablets in Europe and the UK are more potent than previously; the purity of those tablets has gone up, and so has the risk.”
He said there were also fresh reports, most recently from Israel, about the dangers posed by synthetic cannabinoids.
He said event organisers and the night-time music scene, which traditionally were somewhat reluctant to get explicitly involved in drug harm reduction campaigns, were shifting in their approach.
He said it was really important that gardaí and the HSE engage on this issue and said the launch, attended by the senior gardaí, was an indication that they were prepared to do so.
At a higher level, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health needed to be involved, he said.
In relation to Garda concerns about a ‘back of house’ drug testing system, he accepted there were genuine issues.
“I do appreciate the legal difficulties gardaí face in relation to that, but it is happening in other jurisdictions and happening successfully, and gardaí are aware of that.”
A water fountain or ‘hydration station’ — a practical response to the dangers of stimulant-induced overheating — and an amnesty bin formed part of the launch.
“One thing the HSE can be involved in is training people who work in the night-time economy in relation to substances and [creating an environment] where young people feel more comfortable to come forward to staff and a more understanding and empathetic approac