Gangs are behind NI ‘prescriptions’ trade

A new Westminster report into ‘legal highs’ and the misuse of prescription drugs claims organised criminals are running the trade in Northern Ireland to a greater extent than in Britain and that the rate of new psychoactive drugs use in Ireland is the highest in Europe.

‘Drugs: new psychoactive substances and prescription drugs,’ which has been newly-printed by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, followed a November briefing by top Hertfordshire police officer, Andy Bliss, who is the Lead on Drugs at the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

According to the report the involvement of organised crime gangs in prescription drugs peddling is an issue in Northern Ireland but not in Britain.

The report explains: “Chief Constable Bliss informed us that recently police forces around England and Wales were asked to report on the prevalence of prescription drug misuse and the involvement of organised crime in relation to supply.

Home Affairs Committee Chair Keith Vaz.Home Affairs Committee Chair Keith Vaz.
Home Affairs Committee Chair Keith Vaz.

“The collated information showed that diazepam misuse was particularly prevalent although there was little indication of organised crime group involvement in anywhere other than Northern Ireland.”

Despite Chief Constable Bliss’ claims, when he was asked by Committee member Lorraine Fullbrook MP where exactly the Northern Irish organised criminals were procuring their prescription drugs from, he said he didn’t know.

Asked if criminals were stealing them, he said: “I don’t have that level of detail today but I am very happy to share the report with the Committee.”

Referring to the problem of new psychoactive substances - commonly known as ‘legal highs’ as they are deliberately engineered by chemists to avoid proscription under the Misuse of Drugs Act - the report says the rate of their consumption is higher in Ireland than anywhere else in Europe.

Startlingly, one in six young people in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) reported having used ‘legal highs.’

The report says: “In terms of popularity, the European Monitoring Centre’s annual report 2012 highlighted that: ‘In 2011, a European survey of youth attitudes, which interviewed more than 12,000 young people (15–24), estimated that five per cent of young Europeans had used ‘legal highs’ at some time, with about half of the countries falling in the range three to five per cent.

“‘The highest estimates were reported by Ireland (16 per cent) followed by Latvia, Poland and the United Kingdom (all at nearly 10 per cent).’”

Commander Simon Bray, ACPO lead for psychoactive substances, also briefed the Home Affairs Committee prior to the report’s publication.

He said it’s possible a third of ‘legal high’ users buy them in head shops and this is especially a problem in NI.

“There is a particular problem in relation to head shops in places that are outside the remit of this Committee, I suppose, like Northern Ireland where they have a set

of five head shops in the city centre of Belfast and where they have also been affected by the knock-onlegislation in the Republic,” said Commander Bray.

“We learned quite a lot from that Northern Ireland experience about how they deal with the antisocial behaviour and new methods of tackling head shops.”