A delegation from Jersey took part in last week’s British-Irish Council (BIC) meeting covering the misuse of drugs and alcohol.
Deputy Anne Pryke, Minister for Health and Social Services, attended the meeting in Dublin along with Michael Gafoor, Director of the Island’s Alcohol & Drug Service, and Martin Knight, Head of Health Improvement.
BIC Ministers shared information on policies and trends in drug use in the eight BIC administrations’ jurisdictions and exchanged views on education, interventions and treatment.
The main discussion at the meeting focused on current patterns and responses in relation to cannabis, new psychoactive substances (NPS) and the misuse of prescribed medicines. Ministers agreed on the importance of national and international collaboration, and pledged that prompt and proactive action should be taken to control NPS where there is evidence of harm.
In common with most jurisdictions, Jersey was able to share concerns about the emerging use of NPS. Previously and misleadingly known as ‘legal highs’, these drugs – many of which are no longer legal – continue to have lethal consequences across jurisdictions.
Deputy Pryke said “I have taken the opportunity to inform the Council of the successful Jersey approach in moving quickly to ban emerging and harmful new psychoactive substances, as well as sharing information about ‘A Parent’s Guide to Drugs’, which has recently been updated and circulated through Jersey schools.
“We now await the outcome of a review being led by UK Minister of State for Crime Prevention, Norman Baker, in which it is proposed to ban ‘families’ of drugs rather than individual compounds. This approach will allow us to be more proactive rather than continually playing catch-up due to the rapid changes being made to these dangerous and harmful psychoactive substances.
Michael Gafoor said “It is evident that jurisdictions appear to have their own trends relating to the emerging use of different NPS and Jersey would appear to be unique in the availability and trends in the use of ethylphenidate, which we banned locally in December last year.”
Prescribed drugs was one of the themes discussed, with concerns raised about the increasing use of diverted prescribed drugs and over the counter medicines. More recently, Jersey has moved to classify Tramadol as a class C drug due to a marked rise in prescriptions, along with accumulating evidence of misuse and harm.
The issue of the significant harms of alcohol was also raised by delegates, all of whom reported evidence of related negative health consequences. It was recognised that despite concerns over the significant harms caused by NPS and other drugs of abuse, that at a population level it was in fact alcohol that represents the greatest harm to the greatest number. All member states presented plans to address the issue of pricing and access to cheaper alcohol; in particular members awaited the outcome of a challenge to the introduction a minimum unit price in Scotland that is currently with the European courts.
Martin Knight said “Alcohol is a well-established part of our culture; when used responsibly and in moderation it can bring benefits, but all too often alcohol becomes much more than harmless enjoyment.
“Across the member jurisdictions concern was expressed about over use of alcohol and its link to violence, public disorder and high levels of health problems including those leading to death and at much higher levels than other drugs of abuse.
“Public health officials are often criticised for trying to introduce ‘nanny state measures’, however in the case of alcohol we are responding to clear evidence of harm and early death as well as the knowledge of increased risk from not just high levels of consumption but sustained moderate consumption above recommended levels.”
A further officer level meeting in September will see the BIC continue its work on drugs and alcohol.