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Jacob Chabeaux

Six hospitalised and one dies after taking psychedelic drug

Earlier this month Irish teenagers took 25I-NBOMe and one died – here we look at decriminalisation as an option and why harmful substances need to be detected earlier

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On January 18 2016, Gerard Banks and his friend Michal Krzeslak were walking home from a night out in Cork City, Ireland, when they heard “crazy shouting at a house”. Upon inspection they saw that the place was covered in blood – they shouted in to see if everyone was okay. Speaking to Cork’s Red FM, Banks describes the scene. “When we went in it was like a scene from CSI – blood all over the walls, floors, couches and a man and a woman naked covered in blood shouting and screaming badly hurt and clearly in a state of dementia. The man was smashing the house up, blood was everywhere. The house was destroyed. There was a man on the floor in cardiac arrest with major breathing problems and the man who let us in sitting on the chair in shock”.

Gerard Banks Speaks To Neil Prendeville About Scene At House O...

LISTEN: "They didn't even know they were covered in blood and badly hurt, they didn't even know there was a man dying on the floor." Neil spoke live to eyewitness Gerard Banks this morning who has been left traumatised after what he viewed at a house on Pouladuff Road on Monday night. 6 people were hospitalised after allegedly consuming 2CB. One person remains in a critical condition (neil@redfm.ie)

Posted by Corks RedFM 104-106 on Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Six people were hospitalised as a result with one, 18-year-old Alex Ryan, tragically dying on January 23, five days after the incident. At first it was suspected that the substance taken was the psychoactive drug 2-CB. It was later confirmed to be 25I-NBOMe, a derivative of the 2C family of drugs, also referred to as “N-bomb”, the side effects of which little is known about. The scenes in Cork point to the negative and in one case, lethal effect. To date, no human or animal tests have been carried out on 25I-NBOMe to test for, median lethal dose, psychological and/or behavioural effects, neurotoxicity, abuse liability, dependence potential or the psychosocial consequences of chronic use. Here we look at why decriminalistion is an avenue

Related Deaths & Supply:

According to a 2014 report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, this is not the first time that “N-bomb” has been linked to deaths, with 32 non-fatal intoxications and four deaths, one in the UK, recorded at that time. The five people in Cork and the young man who lost his life can now sadly and unnecessarily be added to that list. Though a controlled substance in Ireland, 25I-NBOMe is sold as a research chemical online.

The report states: “EMCDDA monitoring of Internet suppliers and retailers selling 25I-NBOMe (conducted in the month prior to the risk assessment) identified more than fifteen companies that may be based within the European Union and China, offering up to kilogram quantities of the substance. In some non-fatal intoxications reported by the Member States and in clinical case reports it was reported that the users had sourced 25I-NBOMe from the Internet”.

Failures of the criminal approach:

This incident and tragic loss of life once again highlights the need for a new approach to drug policy, the decriminalisation and regulation of all drugs. This will better protect people choosing to use drugs and educate people of the dangers of potentially lethal and as of yet untested chemicals. Dazed went to the Help Not Harm Inaugural Symposium on drug policy reform being held in Buswells Hotel Dublin, Ireland, directly across from Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament) to see what changes are being made and what can be achieved going forward.

Ireland is already progressing with plans to introduce supervised injecting rooms for intravenous drug users and an Oireachtas Justice Committee has recommended the implementation of the Portuguese model of decriminalisation for Ireland. A policy which current drugs Minister Aodhan O’Riordan (in attendance) has championed and hopes to see rolled out across Ireland as soon as possible. He believes the public are also eager for change. “It’s not about legalisation it’s about decriminalisation, decriminalisation of the individual,” he says. “I haven’t met one person when I’ve been canvassing that has given me a negative reaction to what I’m saying”. However with a general election on the horizon it is doubtful; despite O’Riordan’s optimism, that he will be in government following the election due to the mistrust Irish voters have for the Labour Party – of which he is a member – following their tenure as junior coalition partner in the Fine Gael/Labour government.

One man who is hoping to take over the reins as drug Minister if elected is Sinn Fein drugs spokesman Jonathon O’Brien. To O’Brien this is not just a political or societal issue, but one which deeply affects him personally, he tells the room of his own brother’s battle with heroin addiction and the number of times he has been called upon to help him following an overdose. His brother survived but many do not. Ireland recorded 679 drug and alcohol related deaths in 2013 – roughly one fifth of these were heroin users.

According to O’Brien “There are many, many incidents in which people’s lives could have been saved had the emergency services been called. The reason people don’t do that is because they are afraid to call the authorities. People are afraid because of the fear of being criminally prosecuted”. Sinn Fein as a party are currently against decriminalisation something which O’Brien hopes to change at the upcoming annual Ard Fheis (Party Conference), “I will be strongly pushing that the party changes its tune on this issue. Criminalisation has failed, it’s costing lives and we need to change that”.

What can be done and what is being done?

Josie Smith, the National Lead for Substance Misuse, believes that the early detection of harmful substances through testing is key. WEDINOS is a centralised lab for testing drugs funded by the Welsh government. Anyone in Wales can submit a sample for testing anonymously, with all findings being published on their website. So far they have received over 4000 samples; Smith believes that the project “provides a mechanism where people can feel comfortable talking about their drug use and I think that is absolutely vital”. If something similar could be implemented in Ireland and England it would surely prevent cases like that in Cork from reoccurring and save some lives that are too often needlessly lost. Yet this is but one link in a chain. Decriminalisation and testing are not enough and will achieve very little unless the money saved, from not putting people through the court and prison systems, is reinvested in treatment and reintegration programmes, such as those in Portugal, which the evidence shows have been massively successful.