Pills shaped like ghosts, clear plastic bags and stamps of LSD; Irish students are sneaking a lot more than naggins of vodka into nightclubs.
The use of psychoactive drugs in Ireland among the 15-24 year age group is the highest in Ireland, according to the 2017 European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction report on drug use in Ireland.
‘Sniff’, ‘Charlie’, ‘blow’, also known as cocaine, has found a home in the back pocket of some students on nights out. The expensive party drug that was once associated with the Celtic Tiger era has made a comeback amongst the middle class.
Austin Prior, an addiction counsellor at the Rutland Centre in Dublin says that the frightening thing for him is that taking cocaine is now seen as socially accepted.
“I work in private practice and I see a growth among professional people and the self-employed. They could be plumbers or electricians, solicitors and people with senior business jobs in high-profile companies. There seems to be a tacit acceptance that they are just party people – they are doing their jobs, and at the weekends they take cocaine,” he told The Independent.
It’s not only cocaine that is being seen as socially acceptable amongst the middle class. The use of MDMA has jumped significantly in recent years with a total of 4.4 per cent of young Irish adults reporting to have used the drug in the last year, compared to a reported 2.6 per cent in 2007.
It should also be considered that this figure may be higher as many young people will not admit to taking A class drugs.
Last summer, drug testing facilities were available at seven festivals in England. They were run by a non-profit organisation called The Loop. According to the organisation, 8,000 people had drugs tested anonymously. Those who had drugs tested were given results about purity levels, contamination and drug safety advice from volunteers.
Catherine Byrne, Minister for State at the Department of Health with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy stressed that the safest option is to not take illegal drugs.
“I am not asking anybody to bring illegal drugs to any festival, I am asking them to be careful about their health and look after their health – illegal drugs are killing people all across the world. But I do think that anything that can be put in place through the new strategy – ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery’ – is very important for us to do,” the Minister said.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy, also known as the SSDP, is an international non-profit organisation which is focused on reforming drug policy.
“Worldwide at the moment, there are huge issues surrounding how different countries deal with drug users mostly as a criminal issue. We would rather it be dealt with rightfully as a medical and mental issue,” said Declan Moore, Chairperson of the SSDP society in DCU.
“We neither condone or condemn drug use, but we want people to be realistic about the fact that drugs are an integral aspect of society,” he added.
Talking about the rise of drug use amongst students, Moore said one of the biggest hypocrisies we have as a society is that it’s not a one size fits all law in regards to drugs.
He explained that university level students have a privilege to an extent, as if they are caught in possession of drugs the average penalties they receive tend to be less than penalties received by those who are from a working class or uneducated background.
“Drugs amongst students has definitely become a bigger thing. I first started taking drugs when I started college. Music festivals definitely bring a lot of people in contact with drugs that they wouldn’t otherwise take,” a DCU student, who wished to remain anonymous, told The College View.
“I went to Boxed Off [an electronic music festival] and not one of my friends wasn’t on one thing or the other,” they added.
Boxed Off is an annual electronic music festival which this year, took place in Fairyhouse race course in Navan, Co. Meath on September 29th. Joe Hayes, a 19-year-old student, died after becoming ill at the music festival. He was brought to Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown from Fairyhouse but was pronounced dead the following day.
The Irish government has been called on to look at allowing the provision of drug testing kits at nightclubs and festivals after the UK has set an example. This would allow drug users to gain feedback regarding the potency and content of what they are about to consume. However, Catherine Byrne, the junior minister, said the approach has been criticised.
She said that such drug-testing kits could inform people that the drugs they are about to consume are safe when they are in fact not.
Speaking about this, Moore said that “these kits have serious limitations but they are better than nothing”.
He then explained that there is a grey area around the legal status of himself using these kits to test drugs for students who ask him to do so. As he would technically be in possession of the drugs this is something he cannot condone.
“The better solution would be to have both test kits that people can distribute amongst themselves and friends or come and buy for a small fee at a festival as well as a large tent where there would be a chemical testing centre in it. This would be much more detailed and a lot more reliable than the [previously mentioned] test kits,” he added.
“On nearly every night out I have in college at least one of my friends is taking drugs. At the start I was shocked but now it is seen as normal,” a student who asked not to be identified told this newspaper.
“I don’t think people realise the seriousness of the drugs they are taking. I definitely think there is a sense of peer pressure and trying to act cool involved,” they explained.
As students continue to take risks by popping a pill at a festival or taking a dab out of a plastic bag, the Irish government are now being called on to intervene in current drug policies.
Image Credit: Kristian Hammerstad