A new study has revealed a dangerous trend in users injecting synthetic substances along with other drugs such as heroin, raising new concerns around addiction and the associated health risks.

The study, titled Syringe Analysis Pilot Project, was conducted in September 2021 and is the first of its kind in Ireland.

It was conducted by the HSE National Social Inclusion Office, the HSE National Drug Treatment Centre Laboratory, and Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI), and found traces of 32 different drugs and metabolites in syringes analysed from Dublin and the Midlands.

The main findings

The study used syringe analysis to determine the contents of 155 used syringes collected across Dublin and the Midlands Region and, in turn, identify trends in drug injection.

Although heroin was found in 93.3 per cent of syringes in Dublin, and 98.2 per cent of syringes in the Midlands Region, new trends were also discovered.

For the first time in this population, the synthetic cathinone 3-methylmethcathione (3-MMC) was found in both Dublin and the Midlands, along with higher levels of methamphetamine and, in the Midlands, the possible injection of benzodiazepine flurazepam.

Synthetic cathinones – also referred to as ‘Bath Salts’ – are human-made stimulants.

Created to replicate organic cathinones, a stimulant found in the khat plant, synthetic cathinones are usually sold as a white or brown crystal-like powder.

Professor Eamon Keenan, HSE National Clinical Lead, Addiction Services, said: “The presence of cathinones, a synthetic drug designed to mimic cocaine or amphetamines, is particularly worrying as these substances have been found to lead to severe mental health impacts, including an increased risk of suicide and prolonged periods of insomnia.

“It also leads to high-risk behaviour: a HIV outbreak a few years ago was linked to cathinone use.”

What are synthetic substances?

As a leading toxicology laboratory offering drug testing services for the legal sector and the workplace sector, our in-house scientists are all too familiar with the prevalence of synthetic substances, and the risks associated with these dangerous new drugs.

Also known as synthetic drugs, legal highs, or New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), these drugs are manufactured to mimic the effects of established illegal substances such as cocaine, ecstasy, or cannabis.

They are often sold online under different guises, including as bath salts, plant food, fertiliser and even aphrodisiacs, and are usually labelled ‘Not for human consumption’.

One of the biggest misconceptions about NPS is that they are safer than ‘mainstream’ illegal drugs.

However, these substances are in fact extremely dangerous for several reasons:

  • New substances are being manufactured all the time

    NPS are usually manufactured by unscrupulous chemists who alter the structure of existing compounds to create new compounds, with the intention of replicating the effects of illegal drugs on the body.

    When a new substance is identified and banned by authorities, others are quickly manufactured to replace them. This continuous development of NPS means it is difficult to know the effects of each and what a dose will do to the body.
  • They can differ greatly from batch to batch

    The speed at which NPS are developed means that it’s possible to receive a very different drug from batch to batch, even if the name and packaging look the same.
  • They are unregulated

    The manufacture and sale of NPS is unregulated and the products are untested.

    This means that there is currently very little information available on short and long-term effects on the human body.

Drug testing you can trust

AlphaBiolabs has been providing drug testing solutions for the legal sector and the workplace sector for over 15 years, employing some of the foremost scientists in Europe in our toxicology laboratory, and investing in the very latest equipment.

Our laboratory is accredited to the quality standards ISO 17025 and LAB 51, meaning you can be confident of receiving a 100% accurate, reliable result, based on the samples we receive at our laboratory.

Better still, legal clients can benefit from free sample collection for legally-instructed drug tests from our Dublin walk-in centre.

For expert advice on which drug test will best suit your needs, call us on 01 402 9466 or email info@alphabiolabs.ie and our Customer Services team will be happy to discuss your requirements.

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