Huge increase in legal highs and psychoactive substances in Wexford
THERE has been a huge increase in the use of legal highs and psychoactive substances in Wexford, according to the Cornmarket Project.
Paul Delaney, coordinator of the project, described the increase as alarming and said that of the 400 people who presented with substantance misuse problems last year, almost a third had used some sort of legal high in addition to other drugs.
He said that 'a surprising revelation' was that substance misuse generally began when a young person was aged between 12 and 15 years of age.
The project, an initiative of Wexford Local Development, which helps young people to move away from anti-social behaviour as well as drugs, also looked at the links between crime and substance misuse.
Some of the figures from 2015 show that 85 per cent of those who attended the project came through the courts, probation, solicitors or the gardai.
In addition, nine out of 10 of those had already been misusing drugs or alcohol or both, before coming into contact with the criminal justice system.
Mr Delaney said substance misuse was also linked to the person's offence in eight out of ten cases.
The good news, Paul Delaney said, is that just once they engage with us, typically for between 12 to 18 months, 95 per cent of the Cormarket Project's clients will successfully deal with their substance misuse, be it drugs or alcohol, and will remain out of trouble with the law in the future.
However, he said he was concerned about the availability of the new stimulant type drugs or legal highs, which are becoming very common across Wexford.
This is a new generation and type of drug user that we are now seeing, he said, adding that a lot of young people who previously used cannabis found that it typically calmed them.
'However, now they are using cannabis sprayed with amphetamine type drugs that is distorting their cognitive functions and making them hyper. In addition, there are many tablets and pills containing these new psychoactive substances and they are very cheap to buy over the internet,' said Mr Delaney.
He said that the project has already held discussions with their colleagues in the HSE to see how they might put in place an adequate response on a multi-agency basis to this new threat.
In 2013 the Wexford Local Drugs and Alcohol Task Force estimated that the illegal drugs trade in Wexford was worth about €10 million a year, but if these new psychoactive substances get a grip in the county, then it will be well in excess of that in the future, said Mr Delaney.
Talking to this newspaper, he said that after most head shops were closed in 2010, wholesalers abroad began offering substances to anyone willing to pay for them.
'They would sell anything from a gramme to a kilogramme to a bucket full and they found a ready market among people who had been buying substances from head shops,' said Mr Delaney.
He said that while Ireland had some of the strongest legislation in Europe against 'illegal' substances, as soon as a substance was banned, the wholesalers were working around the law by getting the chemical composition changed which meant it was not illegal to import it until the legislation was again updated, in a cat and mouse process. The Cornmarket figures for 2015 will be officially released tomorrrow (Wednesday, July 27).