Tuesday, 13 October 2020
Department of Health
Government policy in relation to drug and alcohol addiction services is set out in the national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery-a health led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025.
Following recent media reports regarding the increased use of nitrous oxide, a request was made to the Health Service Executive (HSE) to gather evidence on its use nationally through HSE Addiction Managers as well as Drug and Alcohol Task Forces, with whom it shared a ‘trends template’ containing a series of questions in relation to patterns and emerging harms. The HSE also shared a similar series of questions with the Union of Students in Ireland as well as contacting hospitals, and the National Poisons Information Centre in this regard.
On review of the data regarding the prevalence of use of nitrous oxide, at present, it is not represented in traditional data sets such as the general population survey, treatment data, or in the national drug-related death index; there have been no recorded deaths linked directly to the use of this substance.
The National Poisons Information Centre, Beaumont Hospital has received no calls in relation to nitrous oxide between 2015 to the present date, although there has been a small number of web-based queries about the substance. HSE Adolescent Addiction services have not had presentations from individuals seeking help in relation to use of nitrous oxide. Further, hospital sources are not currently reporting a concern in relation to harms associated with use of nitrous oxide.
Following its research, the HSE has concluded that while the use of nitrous oxide has emerged in an Irish context over the past two years, at present there is limited information to suggest emerging harms when compared to other more frequently used substances such as cocaine or MDMA. A locally targeted approach has been recommended within areas of need to address the use of this substance as a large-scale media campaign would be counterproductive if launched without formative research and a strong theoretical basis.
In this context, a number of steps have been taken to address the use of nitrous oxide. The HSE have published and promoted on social media tailored information aimed at parents who are concerned about the use of this substance by young people. New content has been added to the Drugs.iewebsite, as well as a harm reduction section on nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide will also be included in new awareness resources being created by the HSE in quarter 4 of 2020.
Further, in support of a targeted response, a number of webinars have been hosted with the aim of upskilling local professionals regarding the use of nitrous oxide. Speakers at these events included a UK professional, the HSE, and professionals from the local areas.
In order to provide further data on its use, nitrous oxide will be included as the Irish module as part of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction EU Web Survey in March 2021.
I believe that particular vigilance is required to protect young people from threats to their health and well-being from misuse of substances, including nitrous oxide. I am committed to continuing to resource harm reduction and education campaigns aimed at increasing awareness of the risks of drug use.