Being young – and consuming drugs is risky enough – but its even riskier with new synthetic drugs and policies that fail to reduce harm to those who use them.

This week, sadly – although with some glimmers of hope – saw the UK take a major step backwards with their Psychoactive Substances Bill.

In the Irish Times this week, Una Mullally wrote about the risks and recklessness of young people due to their stage of neurological development.

Teenagers and young adults are more vulnerable to risky and reckless behaviour because of changes in the prefrontal cortexes of their brains. These neurological changes increase the possibility of risk-taking between childhood and adolescence, and then gradually decrease into adulthood.

It is this demographic, she argues, that are most likely to engage in risky behaviour (and be exposed to it). In this context she states, ‘accidents happen’.

Mullally cites some statistics from the European Drug Report 2015: Trends and Developments.

We have the second-highest rate of both amphetamine and ecstasy use (in an adult’s lifetime) in Europe. We have the fifth-highest use of cannabis in Europe, on a par with the Netherlands, famed for its liberal marijuana laws. We also have the fifth-highest European rate of drug-induced deaths. Irish under-35s are the third-highest cocaine users in Europe, next to Spain and the UK.

The highest level in Europe of so-called “legal high” use – better described as new psychoactive substances that mimic the effects of existing drugs – was among young Irish people, at 9.7 per cent.

With these high numbers she wonders, why do we have ‘a society that thinks it is logical to imprison addicts rather than treat them’? Acknowledging we people will always take drugs and we can’t stop this, she muses about what we can do.

You can’t stop those individual actions, but what you can at least try to end is ignorance and misinformation that leads to dangerous drugs and risky behaviour.

Mullally goes on to discuss the findings of the Oireachtas Justice Committee and the work of Aodhán Ó Ríordáin – and how this might shape up politically.

On the issue of illegal drugs, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the Minister with responsibility for our national drugs strategy, seems to speak in a different language to previous politicians. His approach, remarkably, appears to be one of common sense and of research.

How this will pan out a practical level in our legal system is another thing. But we have ignored the issue for too long. We need solutions.

The timing of the article is very important – with the death of a a young person in Cork following the consumption of synthetic drugs. The fact that we are heading towards the end of January and the General Election looms closer on the horizon too makes the issue all the more pressing.

We know that drug use impacts disproportionately on young people and poor people – the two demographics that hold the least political capital. These are the people who have been disproportionately affected by cuts, by the recession, by emigration, communities dismantled and trodden upon even when political leaders tell us things are getting better.

Mullally ends on a poignant note, asking us all, collectively, to solve this problem.

Sometimes tragedies are unavoidable. What is avoidable is ignorance.

Hopefully, as Ireland heads towards its General Elections, drugs and the policies surrounding them will feature more prominently in the debate.

This Thursday Help Not Harm, in association with VolteFace, are hosting a symposium in Buswells Hotel in Dublin from 8.30am – you can grab any remaining tickets here.

You can read the full article by Una Mullally here.

Words by Alastair Moore.

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