AN INDUSTRIAL cleaning product used at Chemsex parties in Limerick holds potentially lethal consequences for those who use it.
The broader definition of Chemsex is the use of drugs to enhance/prolong sexual activity.
Chemsex parties are growing in popularity in recent years around Limerick but there is one drug-of-choice which possesses some deadly side effects for its users.
“I have woken up on the ground after being unconscious and not knowing
what the f**k has happened to me.”
These are the words of Adam, a UL student who has experimented with Chemsex and experienced ‘going under’ after taking a high dose of GHB.
Gamma-Butyrolactone an odourless, clear liquid, gets converted on ingestion to Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB).
Taken at low doses, GHB gives users feelings of euphoria, relaxation and pro-sexual feelings; however, physical dependence can develop after just a few days of continuous use.
While banned for use as an ingested drug, it can still be bought online for as little as €80 for use as an industrial cleaner.
An Irish research paper published in the International Journal of Drug Policy in 2017 assessed the frequency of Chemsex among attendees at Ireland’s only MSM (men who have sex with men) specific sexual health clinic over a six-week period in 2016.
One in four men (27 percent) reported engaging in Chemsex within the previous 12 months, and half had taken two drugs during their last Chemsex experience.
Adam explains from his own experiences that taking GHB was about testing his own limits.
He said: “People want to see how far they can push themselves and their bodies. You could even argue it’s like a form of BDSM. You want to know how far you can push your body until like you’re basically a vegetable or you can’t perform anymore.”
Limerick City Councillor and Drug Educational Officer, Daniel Butler, has spoken about how he has seen third-level students like Adam engage more with GHB in Limerick.
“It’s something we have seen emerging over the last two years here in Limerick… we are using trends identified in the UK, and in particular, in Dublin through the Health Service. While most drugs can be harmful this
one (GHB) is very dangerous even in small doses.”
The Garda Press Office was contacted about the prevalence of this drug and if they’ve seen a spike in seizures. They responded saying there weren’t any exact figures for this, adding, “I don’t think there would be a specific breakdown for this drug.”
It’s Cllr. Butler’s words that seem to encapsulate the overwhelming problem with GHB – the margin between euphoria and overdosing is only a millilitre.
“1ml gives you this euphoric feeling, 1.5ml would make you fall asleep, 2ml and you’d lose consciousness for a few hours. This is also called going under,” explains Kiran Santlal, registrar in psychiatry of substance misuse at the National Drug Treatment Centre.
In December 2018, the HSE confirmed that 15 people had been discharged from Irish hospitals as a result of overdosing on GHB. More up-to-date research is currently being compiled.
Kiran who works in the G Clinic, a specialist unit established in the National Drug Treatment Centre, explains how this highly addictive party drug is now being used outside of a sexual setting.
He said: “It usually starts off in the party scene but then when people become more dependent on it and feel they can’t cope with the withdrawals
they start to take it throughout their normal working day, nearly 24/7.”
Graham Ryall, Treatment Services Co-ordinator with Rialto Community
Drug Team, echoes this message.
He said: “When individuals do engage (with me) in relation to GHB addiction it would suggest physical addiction. Maybe they are using every 60-120 minutes throughout the day and night.
“That, as you can imagine, is going to cause a number of problems. They
will present with issues including high anxiety, depression, isolation, paranoia, affected mental wellbeing. Sleep is also a major issue.”
The research paper mentioned earlier found that one in four men reported that Chemsex was impacting negatively on their lives and almost one-third reported that they would like help or advice about Chemsex.
According to Kiran, the practice of ‘going under’ is a common occurrence for GHB users, with those more highly addicted to it upping their dosage in order to get sleep during the night.
“We are seeing young people using this relatively cheap drug as a substitute for drinking on nights out. We’ve even heard stories of young women spraying a drop of GHB into their drinks to give themselves that euphoric feeling when out.”
Since 2014, there have been over 190 GHB detoxification referrals in Ireland. It’s difficult to quantify how many people have died or been hospitalised as a result of this in the country as GHB leaves a person’s system after 12 hours and many toxicology tests don’t screen specifically for the drug.
The relapse rate for the current NDTC programme is 70 percent.
These figures don’t surprise Graham who has seen how the draw of the party scene and personal/psychological fears can cause individuals to relapse.
He said: “Individuals may think ‘ah sure it’s only a hit, I deserve it’, or ‘I will not make the mistakes I made in the past, I know how to handle it now’. That is never the case.”
Adam, who is gay, has his own opinions as to why this drug is so popular within the LGBT+ community.
“[Chemsex] goes against everything you’ve been taught about sex – you’re mixing gay sex and illegal drugs together in a hotel room or someone’s home. Sex has always been a man and a woman and so vanilla.”
Finding the answers addressing this complex issue won’t be easy, however,
one approach that all can agree is vital is promoting education and awareness surrounding Chemsex while looking at harm reduction policies.
For Adam, he holds sole responsibility for how Chemsex and GHB have impacted his life.
“I chose to take it, I chose to put myself in those situations. At the end of the day, these were my choices, nobody else’s.”
*Adam’s name has been changed to protect his identity. His full name is with the editor.
Limerick Voice 2019 newspaper is available today in all copies of the Limerick Leader.