A NORTHSIDE drop-in centre is trying to get to grips with a new phenomenon among drug users who are injecting and snorting a particular brand of bath salts to get high.
The use of the herbal powder known as ‘Snow’ is a new craze hitting the streets. The Ana Liffey Drugs Project (ANDP) on Abbey Street says it has become aware of an increase in its use over the last four weeks.
The substance, which is legally available in some ‘head shops’ on the Northside, is sold as a ‘bath salt’ for e15 for half a gramme and e30 for a gramme.
Abusers of the product are said to exhibit aggressive behaviour and suffer from hallucinations.
Tony Duffin, director of ANLP, said the service is still trying to “find its feet” in relation to the new trend.
“We know very little of it at the moment and we are trying to verify what’s in it and what the consequences are for users,” he told Northside People.
“You can’t get a newer phenomenon than something that’s come to the fore to us only four weeks ago.
“It seems the use is much like it is with cocaine but it’s very difficult to identify the type and extent of the usage after just four weeks.
“We really need information on what’s in the substance and what the consequences of it are.
“We have been in touch with the North Inner City Drugs Taskforce to get some vital information on it and we are working with various agencies on where we go from here.
“In the meantime we are working with the people using it.
“The bottom line is that we don’t judge people. We engage with them to make sure that they are safe and reduce the risk of harm to our clients.”
Meanwhile, the Dublin Simon Community has expressed serious concern in relation to the number of homeless people it has encountered who are abusing the readily available substance.
“For the person taking it, the substance is like cocaine but regarding the behaviour displayed it is similar to crack cocaine,” said Catherine Kenny, communications officer with the homeless charity.
“But it also lasts longer so users exhibit agitated behaviour, aggression and hallucinations.
“The effects of the drug can last for up to eight hours instead of two to three hours.
“We are seeing an alarming increase in users of this drug. It is supposed to be used as a bath salt but some people snort it and the majority of the people we are encountering inject it.
“That is a big concern for us, particularly since it is legally available.”
She added that Dublin Simon Community, like the Ana Liffey Project and other homeless charities, were worried about the substance as it is a very new phenomenon and little is known about the long-term physical and psychological health effects it could have on users.
When contacted, an employee of a Northside head shop confirmed that ‘Snow’ was on sale at the premises.
Asked how the product was sold and how users were supposed to take it, he said: “We sell it as a bath salt. I cannot legally tell you what you can or cannot do with it but if you use your imagination I am sure you will have a laugh.”
Asked if users had suffered any adverse effects after taking the substance, he simply added: “Not that I know of.”
Tony Geoghegan, director of Merchants Quay Ireland, which provides a range of services to thousands of homeless people and drug users each year, said he was concerned about the potential health effects of the substance.
“A number of guys have been telling me that they are injecting it,” he confirmed.
“They say they love it and that it is better quality than the cocaine you can buy on the street.
“Also, it is cheaper obviously because it is shifting for $15 for a half a gramme in the head shops.
“It is a worry for sure because we have no idea what is in it.
“People are injecting it and some people are snorting it. We haven't seen any bad physical effects from it yet.”
He added: “But certainly people on it can be agitated, as they are on speed or coke. I don't think it is physically addictive but as with cocaine it would be psychologically addictive.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health confirmed that ‘Snow’ was legal as it is not currently an item scheduled under Misuse of Drugs legislation.
However, she said the situation, as with other products currently on sale at head shops, was under review.
“The list of scheduled substances is kept under ongoing review,” she said.
“For example, in 2006 psychotropic (‘magic’) mushrooms, which were on sale in such outlets, were banned and their possession and sale is now illegal.
“On March 31 2009, another substance, BZP, was similarly subjected to legislative control measures and criminal sanctions.”The spokesperson added that the Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, John Curran, is currently considering the options available to more effectively control the activities of head shops.