Minister for Drugs Aodhán Ó’Riordáin has pledged that the first medically supervised injection centres (MSICs) will be open in Ireland next year.
The centres form part of his radical strategy to change the drug landscape in Ireland, a strategy that has garnered coverage across the globe.
If opened in Ireland, the centres will see somewhere that people can inject illicit drugs under the supervision of trained medical staff who will be on hand to intervene in the case of an overdose.
Once the legal restrictions around operating such centres are unblocked, drug service provider the Ana Liffey drug project hopes to run the service.
The group first proposed that they could staff and run an MSIC in Ireland, once it was legal to do so, in 2012.
Director of the Ana Liffey project Tony Duffin spoke to The City about what comes next and to dispel some concerns around the centres.
Rather than legitimising heroin or other intravenous drug-taking, the centres will ease the pressure on emergency services, save lives and provide a clinical space where those drug users who are the most marginalised can access a range of medical services, he said.
One of the main concerns people have about the MSICs is where exactly they will be located.
It is still too early to decide where the centres will, or could, be located until the legislation is published. The possibility of a mobile injecting unit is also still on the table.
“One of the concerns people have is the idea of nimbyism or ‘not in my back yard’ about this, and some ‘note-sim’ ‘not over there either’ – some people are just fundamentally opposed to the idea,” he said.
“That discussion [about location] is still premature because it’s still illegal, but the simple answer is you put them where you’ve got a problem.
“When you start to pull away at that you see that you have the problem right across the city centre, so you have to put them in the optimum place.”
The key concern with using a mobile unit Mr Duffin said is that space for service users is limited and there could be an issue with people accessing the service consistently.
“While all this is going on don’t forget that public injecting is still a very big problem, people are at still at huge risk injecting,” Mr Duffin said.
“Businesses and communities still have problems with drug paraphernalia discarded across the city. The gardai are still trying to police the situation. At the moment the problem is being passed from pillar to post.”
Dublin’s drug culture is not to be underestimated he pointed out.
“We have a very significant problem in Dublin, people take copious amounts of drugs every day,” the drugs worker said.
On top of preventing fatal overdoses – nobody has ever died in any of the eighty or so MSICs around the world – the centres have the ability to intervene in overdoses that may have otherwise been missed.
In an MSIC, an oximeter is placed on the client’s finger and it measures the level of oxygen in their blood. If the level drops below 95 they are technically overdosing and they can be treated with oxygen.
Ireland’s MSIC is likely to be based on the Sydney model where a centre was opened in 2001 in the King’s Cross area of the city – a suburb that was notorious for public drug use.
“The centre reduced ambulance call outs by 80pc because the client base are known as ‘super-utilisers’ of emergency medical services and A&Es,” said Mr Duffin.
“What does Dublin have a huge problem with at the moment? Overcrowding in A&Es, this will take some of that pressure off. You start to save money then in mainstream services.”
While consultation continues and government officials draw up the heads of a new Misuse of Drugs bill, the public conversation will continue.
“People realise that we have a problem, no one is happy about the situation. We need to do something that works if we want to improve Dublin for everybody,” said Mr Duffin.
“This is one way of improving things for people who inject drugs, businesses, families, visitors. It has a positive impact and it’s far reaching.”