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January 30, 2004

Buprenorphine to be used in pilot trials

(Source: 'Methadone alternative' : Irish Medical Times, p. 1, 30 Jan 2004)
Dr Brion Sweeny, a consultant in the Drug Misuse Group, reported from a fact finding trip in the United States and suggested a pilot trial for buprenorphine as an alternative to methadone. Dr Sweeny visited health professionals involved in drug misuse treatment in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore. He also met with the national co-ordinator of the buprenorphine programme in the US. The consultant’s group has received regular updates on the alternative to methadone and communicates its findings to the Irish Medicines Board and the Department of Health.

January 29, 2004

Irish users call for lowering of criminal status of cannabis

(Source: 'Cannabis users urge the reclassification of drug ' : Irish Examiner, p. 8, 29 Jan 2004)
There have been calls from cannabis users in Ireland for downgrading the criminal status of the drug, following the reclassification brought into effect today in Britain and Northern Ireland. The downgrading of cannabis from class B to class C in the UK will mean, in practice, that users aged over 18 will be able to smoke in their own homes without fear of arrest. They are liable to get a police caution for smoking cannabis in public. A spokesman for Cannabis Ireland said his organisation would like to see the government here take control of the supply of cannabis in the way the Dutch government has done.

Dail Debate. Written Answers. Juvenile Offenders

29 January 2004, Vol. 578 No. 6
Question 10. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of juvenile liaison officers in the Garda Síochána at the latest date for which figures are available; his plans to extend the scheme in view of the proven success of it in dealing with juvenile offenders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2492/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): I have been informed by the Garda authorities who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel that as at 27 January 2004, there are 85 JLO gardaí and eight JLO sergeants working in the various divisions throughout the country. In addition to this, the national juvenile office has a staff of one superintendent, two inspectors, two sergeants and four civilians. There are no plans to extend the programme to other areas as the programme is already nationwide.

Part 4 of the Children Act 2001 came into law in May 2002. This effectively placed the Garda juvenile diversion programme on a statutory basis for the first time in its 40 year history. Included in the Act is the introduction into the criminal justice system of the concept of restorative justice and family conferencing, the provisions of which are currently being put into effect by the Garda Síochána.

In compliance with the provisions of section 44 of the Act, a committee has been established to monitor the effectiveness of the programme, review all aspects of its operation and monitor the ongoing training needs of facilitators. In addition, a review is presently taking place within the Garda Síochána regarding the resource implications resulting from the introduction of the Children Act.

January 28, 2004

UK switches to more effective Hepatitis C treatment

(Source: 'Go-ahead for hepatitis C drug ' : The Guardian [Online], 28 Jan 2004)

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has given its endorsement of the drug pegylated interferon, usually taken in combination with another anti-viral drug, for the treatment of the chronic liver disease caused by hepatitis C. The UK government announced the switch to the more effective and expensive treatments as part of its battle against Hepatitis C, one of Britain's most serious public health threats. Only about 2,000 patients are thought to be currently using either pegylated interferon or the more standard interferon alpha, but that number is expected to grow rapidly, using regimes which could be £3,200 more expensive for each patient. Even conservative estimates put the extra cost at around £11m a year.

Schools' drug-awareness education may be counter-productive

(Source: 'Drugs education criticised' : Irish Times, p. 2, 28 Jan 2004)

The present method of giving schoolchildren information about drugs may be counter-productive, according to Mr Willie Collins, co-ordinator of drug and alcohol services for the Southern Health Board. He was speaking at a seminar in Cork yesterday. He said that talks given to students by former drug-users might cause children to indulge in drug use out of curiosity. He felt the subject should be discussed in depth in the classroom by the teacher. The co-author of a book on drug education, Ms Liz Kiely, referred to a 1980 study addressing the credibility problem inherent in efforts to raise drug awareness; the study traced the problem to ‘an exaggerated demonisation of young people’s drugs without adequate reference to scientific fact or to the negative aspects of “respectable” adult drugs like alcohol and tobacco. ‘

Public hype about drugs ignores more serious alcohol problems

(Source: 'An Irishman’s Diary' : Irish Times, p. 19, 28 Jan 2004)

The widespread media coverage of all aspects of the drugs problem in Ireland and the failure of elected representatives to discuss the matter intelligently obscure the fact that alcohol is, in fact, a much more serious problem in this society, causing more poverty, mental illness, misery and death. And, unlike cigarettes and alcohol, illicit drugs don’t raise revenue for the Exchequer. It is so obvious it is hardly worth saying – recreational drug use can inflict long-term damage to mental health. Drug-taking is usually a stupid thing, but not as bad as banning all narcotics, thus playing into the hands of criminal drug dealers. The State ‘with unerring ineptitude and arrogant stupidity’ has given such people a monopoly over the supply of recreational drugs ‘the most profitable consumer item know to mankind’. The criminalisation of heroin has caused it to remain ‘ludicrously high’ in price, leading its primary victims, working-class teenagers, into lives of crime and prostitution to feed their addiction. If they end up in jail, these people will find that getting heroin or cocaine in our prisons is ‘like getting rice in a Chinese restaurant’. The State’s drug policy is ‘not only counter-productive’ but also cruel in that it deprives those with cancer or MS of the relief offered by cannabis.

Dail Debate. Written Answers. Garda Investigations

Vol. 578 No. 5 28 January 2004
300. Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will seek from the Garda Síochána action in relation to allegations that drug use has reached epidemic proportions on bus routes 50N and 77A; if he will ask the gardaí to liaise with Dublin Bus in the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2383/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): I am informed by the Garda authorities that the gardaí in Tallaght, under Operation Safe Route, frequently patrol the 50N and 77A bus routes. Operation Safe Route was set up as a result of meetings of the Dublin Bus Community Forum. The forum, which meets monthly, consists of representatives of the gardaí, community representatives and Dublin Bus management.

I am further informed that, over the past 12 months, a small number of incidents have been detected where youths have been found smoking cannabis resin. These persons have been removed from the buses and prosecuted under section 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

I am assured by the Garda authorities that all such matters brought to Garda attention are investigated by them.

Drug and Alcohol Dependence (Volume 73 Issue 1, 7 February 2004)

Table of Contents and Abstracts ONLY
If you want to request an article from this journal, you MUST complete the following Copyright Declaration Form. Due to copyright restrictions, e-mail requests cannot be accepted. All forms MUST be signed and faxed to 01 661 8567 or posted to National Documentation Centre on Drug Use, Health Research Board, Holbrook House, Holles Street, Dublin 2.
The article will be posted to you on receipt of the signed form.

European Addiction Research (Volume 10 Issue 1, January 2004)

Table of Contents and Abstracts ONLY
If you want to request an article from this journal, you MUST complete the following Copyright Declaration Form. Due to copyright restrictions, e-mail requests cannot be accepted. All forms MUST be signed and faxed to 01 661 8567 or posted to National Documentation Centre on Drug Use, Health Research Board, Holbrook House, Holles Street, Dublin 2.
The article will be posted to you on receipt of the signed form.

January 27, 2004

Fears for drugs scheme

(Source: Irish Times 27 January 2004, Supplement, page 3)
Violence and intimidation are threatening one of the best treatment options for drug addicts, writes Dr Muiris Houston, Medical Correspondent.

The Methadone Treatment Protocol, first introduced in 1998, means thousands of former heroin addicts have been treated in a community setting, with enormous benefit to society, health professionals and individuals affected by drug addiction.

"It represents a huge improvement to what went on 10 years ago, when heroin was openly sold in front of my practice premises," one southside Dublin GP told The Irish Times.

Working in a four-doctor practice he reckons that half of the 40 patients they treat as part of the scheme are "super- stabilised", able to hold down full-time jobs and lead a relatively normal life.

However, not all addicts achieve such stability. Those treated by doctors in satellite clinics range across the entire spectrum of addiction.

People recently released from prison, those with a cross-addiction to alcohol or benzodiazepines (sleeping tablets and relaxants) and patients with active psychiatric problems can be unstable. Such instability can render the person violent and unable to tolerate short- term hitches in the supply of methadone.

One northside Dublin pharmacist says 50 per cent of his methadone clients come from such clinics. "A typical problem patient may have had their medication changed or have fallen out with the clinic doctor and arrive at the pharmacy upset and angry" he says.

Recently, such a client became violent in the pharmacy, forced his way into the dispensary area, grabbed a bottle of methadone from a pharmacy assistant leaving her traumatised. But other attacks throughout the eastern region have involved more than just threatening behaviour.

In one satellite clinic a gun was held to the head of a staff member. In a separate incident a southside pharmacist was confronted by a person covered in blood who stabbed him with a syringe before stealing a quantity of methadone.

It is incidents like these that led the Irish Pharmaceutical Union to ask for a review of the Methadone Programme. In a submission to the Department of Health in September, 2002, it stated: "at this point in time there is no way of dealing with patients who are disruptive and abusive and the whole issue of discipline, including withholding methadone medication, is a litigious minefield."

In contrast to those working in health board treatment clinics, community pharmacists are not provided with security guards. "Security of staff and premises is a major issue and yet no proper consideration has been given to it," the IPU says. A spokeswoman for the union said yesterday: "None of these issues have been dealt with to date."

The problems outlined by individual pharmacists and the IPU appear to contravene a commitment given under section 16 of the original 1998 "Protocol for Initiation of Methadone Dispensing Service in Community Pharmacy". It states: "as far as possible, more difficult patients, those with dual diagnosis, in particular personality disorders, history of serious violence, alcohol problems or psychiatric disorders, will not be dispensed methadone by community pharmacists but will be treated at central level."

But another northside pharmacist told The Irish Times that "90 per cent of methadone patients are fine. It is the other 10 per cent who are causing a crisis within the system. We need Department of Health/health board protocols strengthened to deal with the situation".

Six years after its launch, the Methadone protocol may well be a victim of its own success. The latest figures show treatment facilities increasing by over a third in areas outside the Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA). An internal ERHA review of the programme for 2002/2003 says "there has been an increase in the number of patients being treated". It also noted a 13 per cent increase in the number of patients awaiting treatment in October, 2003, compared to a year earlier. A recent report from the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) found it was seven to 12-times more cost effective to treat methadone patients in a community pharmacy setting com- pared to a State-run clinic. This finding underlines how important pharmacists are to the national drug treatment strategy.

Prof Tom O'Dowd, professor of community health and general practice, at Trinity College, Dublin, says: "the pharmacies are a crucial part of the methadone maintenance programme. The drug problem could not have been addressed without the community pharmacy. There is a need to have this recognised by the Department of Health and Health Boards."

Methadone patients are prescribed and receive the drug in three ways. They may attend a doctor in a central clinic and receive methadone on site. Others attend a health board satellite clinic, see a doctor and have the methadone dispensed in a community pharmacy. This may involve taking the liquid on the premises under the pharmacists supervision. Many stable patients attend their own GP and receive methadone from their local pharmacist.

Methadone and other drugs used to treat opiate addiction

Methadone is synthetic drug belonging to the opioid group. It is widely used to replace morphine or heroin in the treatment of drug dependence. In this situation methadone is given once daily in liquid form to prevent symptoms of withdrawal in a person who has been smoking or injecting heroin. In some patients the dose of methadone can be reduced to the point where the drug is no longer needed; others require long-term treatment.

Its first widespread clinical use was in US Army veterans returning from Vietnam. Some soldiers had been injecting morphine while on service in South East Asia.

Because of the length of time that methadone stays active in the body it is ideal as a once a day drug. It works by locking on to opiate receptors in the brain so that even if a person was to inject heroin they do not experience the usual "buzz".

However it can be difficult to withdraw from completely. Methadone is currently the drug of choice in the Republic for the treatment of heroin addiction.

In France, the first choice treatment is a drug called buprenorphine, with methadone used as a back-up. Buprenorphine comes in tablet form and is dissolved under the tongue. Patients take it three times a week. It is accepted that buprenorphine is easier to completely withdraw from than methadone.

Now that we are seeing a different cohort of younger addicts who are smoking heroin, experts here agree that it may be time to consider using buprenorphine as first line treatment at least in some patients. '

In a study published this month in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, a small number of addicts were given a "depot" formulation of buprenorphine. The injection contained tiny capsules that when injected slowly disintegrate in the body releasing small amounts of the drug over a period of weeks. Researchers concluded that a single shot of the drug was effective and offered the prospect of making heroin treatment more flexible.

Other treatment options include a drug called lofexadine. It is a detoxification drug - in other words it is only suitable for short term use. Lofexadine is used in this country on a named patient basis only; it suits patients who have succeeded in reducing their methadone dose to 10 -15m mls per day but are finding it difficult to finally come off methadone. by Dr. Muiris Houston
(Source: Irish Times 27 January 2004, Supplement, Page 3)

Drug aid treatment on brink of collapse

by Dr Muiris Houston, Medical Correspondent

The methadone treatment programme for drug addicts, which has been in operation since 1998, is on the "point of collapse" in the Dublin area, the Irish Pharmaceutical Union (IPU) has warned.
The Irish Times has learned that individual pharmacists in the Dublin area have already begun sending patients back to central health board clinics in advance of possible official strike action by the IPU.
According to latest treatment figures, 6,886 people addicted to heroin and morphine are receiving treatment in the Republic. A total of 96 per cent of these are being treated in the Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) area.

Pharmacists say the methadone treatment protocol is now unworkable because of a growing trend for health boards to refer "unstabilised methadone patients" to community pharmacies which they say is in breach of agreed conditions.

"There has been a gradual decline in management controls in the Dublin area," according to one pharmacist, "with patients turning up in a confrontational state at pharmacies following attendance at satellite clinics." He blamed constantly changing medical personnel and a lack of ongoing communication for the growing problem.

While many patients on long-term methadone therapy are stable, those who are beginning treatment or who have a separate psychiatric problem can be unstable leading to aggressive and violent behaviour.

Under the terms of the protocol which pharmacists signed up to six years ago, if a patient destabilises while on methadone treatment, he should be removed from the local pharmacists list. The 1998 protocol also states, "more difficult patients ... will not be dispensed methadone by community pharmacists but will be treated at a central level".

A number of pharmacists who spoke to The Irish Times claimed an increasing number of unstable methadone patients are being referred to them because of pressure from health boards. However, this was denied by spokesmen for both the northern area (NAHB) and south-western area (SWAHB) health boards of the ERHA.

Of 272 patients waiting for treatment in the region at the end of October 2003, 51 per cent are from SWAHB and 18 per cent from the NAHB. Eight per cent were waiting more than 12 months for treatment.

A further indication of the ongoing pressure for drug treatment places is the peak of 327 people who were waiting to enter the methadone programme in July last year.

A withdrawal from the methadone treatment programme by pharmacists in the Dublin area would lead to the effective collapse of the scheme - 64 per cent of participating pharmacies are in the ERHA, with only 104 based elsewhere in the State.

The IPU said that, because of local objections and the severe shortage of public funds, new clinics are prevented from opening in the Dublin area, leaving existing health board clinics overstretched.

It accepts that the majority of methadone patients cause no problem for pharmacists but that a minority of chaotic patients has "resulted in a significant rise in violent attacks against pharmacists and pharmacy staff".

These attacks have included needlestick injuries and gun attacks, pharmacists have reported.

A spokesman for the NAHB said it had "received no reports of complaints in its area of physical attacks on community pharmacists".

However, he acknowledged there were instances of verbal abuse and threatening behaviour. A SWAHB spokesman said it only placed "appropriate patients - those who are stabilised" with community pharmacists.

He said that in a situation where a patient relapsed "the board can act quickly to have that patient transferred back to a treatment centre".

A general practitioner who also provides a medical service at a satellite clinic said a possible solution to the problem may be to allow a health board pharmacist formally assess a patient prior to referral to a community pharmacist.

Dr Ide Delargy, Drug Misuse Programme director at the Irish College of General Practitioners, said recent research looking at the attitude of GPs in the programme had shown positive feedback.

"I am satisfied that GPs and pharmacists are working well together in the methadone programme

Key findings from the drug use careers of offenders (DUCO) study

This paper examines the illegal drug using and criminal careers of participants in the Drug Use Careers of Offenders (DUCO) project. DUCO surveyed 2,135 adult male offenders who were incarcerated in prisons in Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory in mid 2001 (Australian Institute of Criminology) Full Text

January 26, 2004

Minister Martin announces television campaign to kick start year two of drugs awareness campaign

Research Highlights Need for More Information

The importance of providing ever-more information about drugs for parents and children alike was highlighted in the findings of new research conducted by the Health Promotion Unit of the Department of Health and Children. The research, which was carried out as part of a three-year Drugs Awareness Campaign being implemented by the HPU, noted that while almost 75% of parents talked to their children about drugs that only two in five parents felt that they were well enough informed about the subject.*

The research was carried out by the HPU at the end of the first year of the campaign. The findings were announced as details of year two of the "Drugs: There Are Answers" campaign was launched earlier today, Monday, 26th January, 2004. The second phase of the campaign starts this evening a four-week television burst on RTE1, Network 2, TV3, TG4, Sky One, Sky News, Sky Sports and E4.

The Drugs Awareness Campaign is an important component of the Government´s National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 - which aims to significantly reduce the harm caused to individuals and society by the misuse of drugs, through a concerted focus on supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research. A key part of the strategy is the provision of more information and the creation of a greater awareness of the dangers of drug misuse.

The month long burst of television advertising is the first part of this year’s campaign. Other initiatives planned for the first few months of the year include the distribution of two booklets for both parents and children:

How Do I Talk to Someone About Drugs
A Parent´s Guide to Drugs
and greater use of the specially created website The brochures can be obtained by ringing the campaign information line on 1 850 719 819.

A key new initiative for 2004 is the "Drugs: There Are Answers" Roadshow which will be travelling to major population centres over the coming months. A pilot for the Roadshow was successfully carried out in Clonmel last November.

The Roadshow brings the key messages out to local areas providing people with the opportunity to meet with experts and to discuss all aspects of drugs misuse. In each area the Roadshow is being backed by local press and radio advertising. The full schedule of the Roadshow will be announced shortly.

Speaking about the campaign Micheál Martin, TD, Minister for Health and Children said that research had shown that raising the level of awareness in relation to drugs misuse could play a significant role in dealing with the problem. He said that while the current research had shown that more information is getting through to parents a great deal more still needs to be done.

"It is imperative that we understand the reasons behind the person´s drug usage and inform ourselves with the facts before we confront them. Different people use different drugs for different reasons so we just cannot put everyone who tries drugs into the one category. Our current campaign forms part of a three-year campaign, aimed at ensuring that people know that information and help is available. It is also designed to ensure people know that such information can play an important role in dealing with drugs".

The advertising campaign has been developed by Ogilvy & Mather Ireland. It is being run under the tag line "To Make Better Choices You Need the Right Information. Drugs. There Are Answers."

A Guide to Rethinking Your Drinking

A Guide to Rethinking Your Drinking (Department of Health 2003)
Full Text

The Little Book of Women And Alcohol

The Little Book of Women And Alcohol (Department of Health 2003)
Full Text

January 23, 2004

Alcohol and drug use amongst young attenders to A & E

Alcohol and drug use amongst young attenders to A & E. IMJ Vol 96 Number 10 Nov/Dec 2003.
Full Text

High morbidity expected from cirrhosis in injecting drug users.

High morbidity expected from cirrhosis in injecting drug users. IMJ Vol 96 Number 10 Nov/Dec 2003 Pages 303-305.
Full Text

Addictive Behavior (Volume 29 Issue 2, February 2004)

Table of Contents and Abstracts ONLY
If you want to request an article from this journal, you MUST complete the following Copyright Declaration Form. Due to copyright restrictions, e-mail requests cannot be accepted. All forms MUST be signed and faxed to 01 661 8567 or posted to National Documentation Centre on Drug Use, Health Research Board, Holbrook House, Holles Street, Dublin 2.
The article will be posted to you on receipt of the signed form.

ERHA concerned over funding for drug services

The ERHA is concerned about the lack of extra funding for drug and alcohol misuse services. The 2004 service plan emphasised the urgency for action in regard to provided services: “The Authority recognises that alcohol services require considerable development to address the wide-ranging needs of people with alcohol problems”. The ERHA pointed out that lack of funds for drug misuse services “is likely to limit the potential to build on improvements in services in recent years”.
(Source: 'Concern over alcohol/ drug service funding ' : Irish Medical Times, p. 6, 23 Jan 2004)

Provisional Figures Show 2% Decrease in Headline Crime in 2003

Press Release:
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, T.D., today published the provisional crime statistics furnished by the Garda Commissioner for 2003. The statistics show a cumulative decrease of 2% for the year 2003 compared with the figures for 2002. The Minister also published the statistics for the fourth quarter of 2003 which also show a decrease of 2% compared to the corresponding period in 2002.

Press Release
"Provisional Figures Show 2% Decrease in Headline Crime in 2003"

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, T.D., today published the provisional crime statistics furnished by the Garda Commissioner for 2003. The statistics show a cumulative decrease of 2% for the year 2003 compared with the figures for 2002. The Minister also published the statistics for the fourth quarter of 2003 which also show a decrease of 2% compared to the corresponding period in 2002.

The Minister particularly welcomed the fact that the statistics confirm the trend of falling violent crime noted in statistics previously released in respect of the first nine months of 2003. The year on year statistics now being made available show that significant decreases were recorded in some of the most serious offence categories relating to crimes against the person:

· Murder down 12%
· Manslaughter down 14%
· Assault causing harm down 21%.
· The two rape categories down by 19% and 33% respectively
· Aggravated sexual assault down 54%

"All headline offences are serious but some are far more serious than others. So we have to be careful with the overall figure of a reduction of 2% because that figure attaches the same statistical weight to a bicycle theft as a murder", he said.


The Minister said he particularly welcomed the news that the number of violent deaths recorded in 2003 is down on the number for 2002 by a total of 7, from 59 to 52. The provisional figures for the final quarter of 2003 also record a decrease of 2% overall compared with the same period in 2002. The Minister was also pleased to note a drop of 13% or 27 fewer cases of sexual assault compared to the same quarter in 2002. Overall for the year 2003 the number of sexual assaults recorded has fallen by 7% or 112 fewer cases compared to 2002.


The Minister noted that the number of assaults causing harm has reduced for the fourth quarter in succession. The percentage reduction is 15% representing 141 fewer cases. The total reduction for the year 2003 is 21% or 1070 fewer cases.

Compared with the same quarter in 2002, thefts from the person are down 2% and there is a 10% decrease in thefts from cars. However, burglary is up 9%, although aggravated burglary is down by 5%. Robbery from the person is up by 4%. A very significant number of the robberies, thefts from the person and similar offences concern mobile phone thefts. "I believe that mobile phone theft will decline steeply with the introduction of the new technology that renders stolen mobile phones useless where the victim records the phone's IMEI number and informs his network of the theft", said the Minister.

Reductions in violence and public order offences follow the enactment during 2003 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act and the Intoxicating Liquor Act which give significant additional powers to the Gardaí to deal with public order and street crime. The Minister also congratulated the Gardaí on the success to date of Operation Encounter in which they continue to target areas of anti-social behaviour which is obviously paying dividends.

The Minister said that while the figures show that the spiral in crime has been halted, there is no room for complacency. In the reduced number of murders, for instance, are a number of vicious drug-related gang murders. The Gardai have made very significant progress in investigating those murders. The Minister stressed that it was important that the public should have objective information on the issue of crime.

The Minister welcomed the early availability of the statistics and reiterated that the figures are provisional and are thus subject to change. This data is currently the subject of an ongoing validation process which has not yet been finalised. Once this process is completed, the Garda Commissioner's Annual Report for 2003 will be published.

Appendices attached.

21 January 2004

[Headline Crime Incidents]

21 January 2004

For more information contact:
Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform
72-76, St. Stephens Green, Dublin 2, Ireland
Tel: +353 - 1 - 602 8202
Fax: +353 - 1 - 661 5461

Hepatitis C claims 50 lives among drug users each year

Research published has shown that almost 50 drug users will die each year from liver failure due to intravenous drug use. The research was carried out by the National Liver Unit, which is attached to St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin. The research shows worrying health statistics for intravenous drug users who have contracted hepatitis C from sharing needles. Of the estimated 13,460 heroin users in Ireland 41% (5,519 people) have active, live hepatitis C. After 20 years, 22% (1,214 people) will develop cirrhosis; of this 22% and estimated 50 people will die every year, 35 people will develop liver cancer and 60 people will experience the start of liver failure each year. Co-author of the study Dr Aidan Mc Cormick said: “In the context of the whole population it would be considered not a lot, but in the context of a small group of patients, such as these, it is”. The report concluded that harm reduction programmes such as methadone treatment, education and needle exchange had and impact and needed to be maintained.
(Source: 'Liver failure kills 50 drug users a year' : Irish Examiner, p. 2, 24 Jan 2004)

January 22, 2004

Drugs are a factor in an increasing number of road deaths in Northern Ireland

Detections of drivers under the influence of drugs in Northern Ireland have doubled in the past six years – with cannabis the drug most commonly found. A quarter of all road fatalities who were tested for drugs were positive. The Police Service and the Department of Environment have launched an anti-drugs-driving safety campaign. The Environment minister, Angela Smith, said ‘the police will now be actively carrying out field impairment tests on drivers whom they suspect are under the influence of drugs’. The campaign message is ‘You’ll get smashed if you drive on drugs’. According to the PSNI, 39 detections for drugs driving were made in 1997; there were 82 in 2003 – 60 per cent of which related to cannabis, but ecstasy, cocaine and heroin were also found, and people mixed drugs and alcohol – a more lethal combination. The police also stressed that a person’s ability to drive can be equally impaired by legal drugs prescribed by their doctor or bought over the counter. Drugs driving detections more than double.
(Source: 'Drugs driving detections more than double' : Irish Examiner, p. 13, 22 Jan 2004)

Tory leader predicts problems with cannabis reclassification

Tory leader, Michael Howard, promises to reverse the ‘absurd’ reform of cannabis law introduced by Blair’s government, saying: ‘On cannabis, there are good arguments on both sides. But there is no case for this massive muddle in the middle.’ The practical consequences of the reclassification decision will be alarming, he warned. The guidelines produced by the Association of Chief Police Officers say there should be ‘a presumption against arrest’ for possession of cannabis. Police officers will issue a warning and confiscate the drug. Mr Howard asks, ‘What is the warning to consist of?’ What conceivable effect is it likely to have?’ The Conservative view is that if you legalise cannabis it is bound to lead to increased use of the drug. There is a growing amount of evidence that the cannabis being used today is increasingly powerful – skink in particular – and the medical evidence suggests that cannabis can have an effect on mental health.
(Source: ''On cannabis, there are good arguments on both sides. But there is no case for this massive muddle in the middle.'' : Independent [Online], 22 Jan 2004)

January 21, 2004

Drugs in Focus

Issue No 10 'Drug use amongst vulnerable young people'
Published by the EMCDDA 2003
Full Text

Cannabis Reclassification

On 29th January 2004, cannabis will be reclassified from a Class B to a Class C drug across the UK. As a controlled drug, production, supply and possession remains illegal.

Doctors concerned that reclassification of cannabis will mislead public

Representatives of doctors’ groups in the UK say that they are ‘extremely concerned’ that the reclassification of cannabis from a class B to a Class C drug next week will mislead the public into thinking the drug is safe to use. They say that, in fact, cannabis has been linked to greater risk of heart disease, lung cancer, bronchitis and emphysema. The mental health charity, Rethink, is calling for the issue of clear health warnings about the increased risk of developing schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis from cannabis use. When it is downgraded, possession of cannabis will no longer be treated as an arrestable offence an police will not target those who use it in their own homes. Home Secretary David Blunkett has said the change in the law is necessary to enable police to spend more tacklinig class A drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine.
(Source:'Doctors’ fears at cannabis change' : BBC NEWS [Online], 21 Jan 2004)

GPs face threatening behaviour in patients

A telephone survey by the Irish Medical Times (IMT) of 121 GPs around the country found that 29.4% of family doctors had been attacked or intimidated by patients in the past 12 months. A spokesperson for the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), Dr Niall O’Cléirigh, said attacks on family doctors were a constant issue. Patients denied tranquillisers and sedatives were most likely to threaten their GP and such behaviour was ‘fairly heavily tied in to illicit drug use’, which is most prevalent in cities. Because of the huge problem of abuse of valium, sleeping tablets and benzodiazepines and their ready availability on the black market, GPs are increasingly reluctant to prescribe any of these drugs, said Dr O’Cleirigh. A 1996 study carried out in Dublin showed that more than one-in-five GPs had suffered violence at the hands of patients. Active narcotic abuse was regarded in 35% of incidents to have a relevance in causing aggression.
(Source:'Third of family GPs attacked by patients' : Irish Examiner, p. 2, 21 Jan 2004)

January 20, 2004

Largest seizure of ecstasy in Ireland

A seizure of 500,000 ecstasy tablets with an estimated street value of €5 million was made at Mountrath, Co. Laois on Friday. The seizure was made by the Garda National Drugs Unit and the Cork divisional drugs unit. A 31-year old man was arrested at the scene and detained at Mayfield station.
(Source:'Seizure of €5m worth of ecstasy is largest haul of drug in State' : Irish Times, p. 4, 19 Jan 2004)

January 19, 2004

Cocaine purity reduced by five times in Ireland

Detective Sergeant Heelan from the Drugs Squad in Limerick told a court that cocaine in Ireland is being reduced by up to five times before it is sold on the streets. The claim was made a the trial of Mr Sean Smith who was caught in possession of cocaine with a street value of over €13,000. The defendant was also caught in possession of a sub-machinegun and an explosive device. Detective Sergeant Heelan said that he also discovered a press which was used to convert cocaine from powder into solid bars called “nine bars”. He said: “I am aware that cocaine is sold in bars referred to on the street as ‘nine bars’ and on past experience I am aware that they are produced by means of placing powder into a rectangular or square object and pressing it out”. Detective Sergeant Heelan then said that cocaine that was imported into Ireland would be bulked up by as much as five times before being sold on the streets.
(Source:'Limerick court told about cocaine being bulked up' : Irish Times, p. 2, 16 Jan 2004)

Home testing kits sales soar

Almost 8,000 home drug-testing kits have been purchased in Ireland, it has been reported. The kits allow parents to test their children for cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy, heroin and Valium through a urine sample. A spokesperson for the Kildare-based manufacturer said: “These kits will help parents find out the truth if they have suspicions that their kids are using drugs”. The kits came to prominence when they were championed by the News of the World in its “Save our kids” campaign, which was spearheaded by Philomena Lynott, mother of Thin Lizzy rock star Phil Lynott, who died as a result of his addiction to drugs.
(Source:'Rush for Irish drug test kits' : News of the World, p. 32, 18 Jan 2004)

January 15, 2004

Community-based drug prevention programmes from EDDRA

This paper presents the results of a qualitative analysis on 80 community-based prevention programmes in the EDDRA database. Full Text

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