By David Hennessy
A Donegal mother who had to come here to switch off her son’s life support after he took a ‘legal high’ has made a heart-breaking plea to the British government to ban such substances.
She said she wants no other mothers to face the same terrible decision she had to or to go through the suffering her family endured.
Twenty-year old Jimmy Guichard, originally from Donegal, was otherwise fit and healthy and living in Gravesend when he suffered a heart attack. He had been smoking a cannabis substitute that is not covered by this country’s Misuse of Drugs legislation.
Jimmy lost consciousness and suffered oxygen-deprived brain damage.
His mother Karen Audino travelled to England from Donegal to be told she must decide when, not if, to turn off her son’s life support.
Jimmy’s death was one of a growing number directly linked to so-called ‘legal highs’ (novel psychoactive substances) – freely available, untested, unregulated recreational drugs – available on the high street. Karen is urging the Home Office and Department of Health to follow Ireland’s 2010 ban on cannabis and cocaine substitutes.
She told The Irish World: “It might be legal but it could very well be lethal. Legal doesn’t necessarily mean safe.
“Yes, it definitely is (time for government to do something). It’s long overdue. I’ve lived in Ireland for the last ten years and our laws changed over here four years ago and as far as I’m concerned, England are dragging their feet.”
The number of deaths associated with legal highs rose from 10 in 2009 to 68 in 2012.
Twenty-four UK music festivals, including T in the Park, lovebox and Bestival, recently banned their sale after a surge in related deaths. Their action followed that of the Association of Independent Festivals which banned them from fifty of their forthcoming summer events.
Karen, who lives in Letterkenny in the Republic, says she sees young people regularly trafficking the substances across the nearby border.
They are sold with warnings on the packages that read ‘not for human consumption’ or ‘toxic if swallowed’. This loophole, rules intended for cosmetic or gardening products, enables them to get around the law, she says.
“I think everyone’s very well aware of why people are buying them. They’re being sold next to bongs and rizlas, so why are they selling them along with everything that enables them to consume them? That’s just something to hide behind.”
Karen is trying to raise public awareness of the dangers of these substances and wants the government here to introduce ‘Jimmy’s law’ banning them from sale and given a class D drug category introduced for untested products. She has written to every MP in Westminster but without success so far. “I wish I could say I had some response but all I kept getting were emails saying ‘sorry you’re not in our constituency’. That was pretty disappointing but I will keep banging on the doors until someone opens it and sorts this out.”
The Home Office has, admittedly, already banned 250 substances but new ones are emerging all the time.
Home Office Minister Norman Baker last year set up an expert panel to advise on how to tackle the problem It was due to report earlier this year in Spring but its recommendations are still awaited.
Jimmy moved to Letterkenny with his mother from Hextable in Kent. He played hurling for his club, St Eunan’s, and for county Donegal at underage level.
He was in England to get over a break-up with his girlfriend. “He had split up with a girl and he wasn’t getting over it very well so I suggested that he go over to his dad for a couple of months, get a bit of space and move on and come back. He had gone over in the November the previous year and he was going to be home for this last Christmas but that never happened because he passed away in October,” said his mum.
The drug which killed him – a cannabis substitute – cost just over £2, she said. “This stuff is so cheap, it’s accessible to everybody,” said his mum.
He would have been 21 last month, she said, “that was a very, very sad day. We all spent the day together, went and had lunch and raised a glass to him.”
For more information on Karen’s campaign, you can go to: http://jimmyslaw2014.weebly.com/.