Opening Statement for meeting of Joint Committee on Health and Children on in relation to recent legislation made to control certain substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and regulations made thereunder regulate and control the import, export, production, supply and possession of a range of named narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances listed in the Schedules to the Act. An Order of the Government is necessary to declare additional substances to be “controlled drugs” for the purposes of the Act. The Minister for Health & Children then makes regulations to place controls on the import, export, production, supply and possession which are appropriate to the substances which have been declared to be controlled drugs.
At its meeting on 2 March 2010, the Government agreed to a proposal from the Minister for Health and Children to make a Declaration Order under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 declaring a range of so-called “legal highs” to be controlled drugs. Following the Government Decision, the draft Declaration Order and associated draft Statutory Instruments were drawn up and on 1 April 2010 these were notified to the EU Commission in accordance with the Technical Standards Directives 98/34/EC and 98/48/EC which require Member States to notify draft technical regulations which may impact on trade. This process involves a 3 month stand still period. However, in light of growing concerns about the health risks associated with the use of legal highs, application was subsequently made to the Commission to use an urgency procedure and forego the 3 month stand still. The EU Commission advised on 10 May 2010 that the legislation could be implemented without the need to await the expiry of the 3 month period.
At its meeting on 11 May 2010, the Government made the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 (Controlled Drugs) (Declaration) Order 2010 (S.I. 199 of 2010) declaring a range of legal highs to be controlled drugs. On the same day the Minister for Health and Children also signed three Statutory Instruments: the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Regulations 2010 (S.I. 200 of 2010), the Misuse of Drugs (Designation) (Amendment) Order 2010 (S.I. 201 of 2010) and the Misuse of Drugs (Exemption) (Amendment) Order 2010 (S.I. 202 of 2010), to give effect to the Government decision.
In this legislation a large range of “legal high” substances, which had been on sale in headshops, were declared to be controlled drugs, including:
- synthetic cannabinoids (contained in SPICE products),
- benzylpiperazine (BZP) and piperazine derivatives (commonly known as ‘party pills’),
- mephedrone, methylone, methedrone, butylone, flephedrone, MDPV (often sold as baths salts or plant food), and
- Gamma butyrolactone and 1,4 Butanediol
This legislation has brought under control approximately 200 individual substances and covers the vast majority of products of public health concern, which were on sale in headshops.
The process of introducing controls under the Misuse of Drugs Act is complex, particularly for substances which have legitimate uses but also have the potential to be misused. Some of the substances which have been controlled have legitimate uses in the pharmaceutical and chemicals industries e.g. two of the BZP derivatives are used to manufacture authorised medicines, and GBL and 1,4 BD are widely used in the manufacture of plastics, as industrial solvents, as well as in many consumer products such as paints, toiletries, cleaning products, food products and others. Consequently it was necessary to engage with other Government Departments and organisations to ensure that appropriate and proportionate controls were introduced.
Controlling substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act is an ongoing process which involves national and international cooperation and engagement. Substances are scheduled under the Act in accordance with Ireland’s obligations under international conventions and EU Council decisions and/or where there is evidence that the substances are causing significant harm to public health in Ireland. The list of scheduled substances is kept under ongoing review. For example, in 2006 and 2009 respectively, psychotropic (‘magic’) mushrooms and the party pill BZP were declared controlled drugs and their possession and sale became illegal. At a national level, the Department of Health & Children works closely with the Department of Justice and Law Reform, the Office of the Minister for Drugs, the National Advisory Committee on Drugs, the Gardai, the Customs Service, the Forensic Science Laboratory, the Irish Medicines Board, the Health Research Board and others to monitor emerging trends in the development of new psychoactive substances. At an international level the Department engages with the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and the United Nations Office of Drug Control regarding international trends in the emergence of new substances and drug control.
In addition to the recent controls on legal highs introduced by the Minister for Health and Children, the Minister for Justice and Law Reform is bringing forward the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill 2010 which aims to ensure that the sale or supply of substances which may not be specifically proscribed under the Misuse of Drugs Act, but which have psychoactive effects, will be a criminal offence.
The Minister for Health and Children will be keeping the list of controlled legal highs under review and has indicated that if individuals seek to circumvent the recent controls on certain legal high substances by importing other substances that are currently not subject to control under the Misuse of Drugs Act, Government approval will be sought to ban additional substances if such substances pose a risk to public health.