As the government publishes the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injection Facilities) Bill 2017, Louise Carroll hears both sides of debate over whether Ireland should welcome its first injecting facility.
Ireland’s first injection centre is expected to be up and running by late 2017 as the government has published the bill proposing amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The Department of Health has said the bill will allow Minister Simon Harris to issue a license, with conditions to operate a supervised injecting facility.
Drug users will be able to self-administer the drugs they have brought with them while the facility will provide clean, sterile equipment preventing the spread of infection.
Users will have access to emergency care in the case of an overdose and trained staff will be on hand to offer advice regarding treatment and care.
“We know these facilities are not the sole solution to the drugs problem and many other steps are needed but we are committed to doing everything we can to help those who need it most,” said Minister for Drugs Catherine Byrne.
Currently over twenty thousand people in Ireland are heroin users with records showing 3000 injecting in Dublin and 400 of these openly injecting in the city centre each month.
“… it’s like having a tear in your jacket and waiting until it gets really big before you fix it.”
-Marie Byrne, Aisling International
“I am delighted to be bringing forward this important legislation that adopts a health—led approach to drugs—use by those in our society who have been marginalised as a result of their addictions.” said Minister Simon Coveney.
The Ana Liffey Drug Project has been lobbying for a supervised injection facility since 2012.
According to its director Tony Duffin, the real number of those injecting out in the open could be much higher than the official estimate.
“People hide themselves around alleyways among dirt, filth, human excrement, blood and there’s an increased risk of HIV or hepatitis through direct or indirect sharing of needles, as well as increased risk of overdose,” he said.
“If you overdose on your own, it’s difficult for people to find you down an alleyway. We need to offer people somewhere safe to go.”
Mr. Duffin explained that there is a lot of shame attached to injecting in public. With a service like the injecting facility there is nothing more to hide.
“All barriers are removed. You make sure the person is safe in their drug use which gives you the opportunity to have an empathic relationship,” he said.
“It’s important to say that supervised injection facilities have to be delivered embedded in existing health services. We need to have pathways to refer people on to. We already have the existing services that we would tap into.”
However the facility, which will be run on a pilot basis, has also raised concerns.
Marie Byrne, Director of Aisling Group International believes we need to be asking more questions and decide what is truly best for those addicted to drugs.
“If you were worried about a friend addicted to drugs, would you want them to go to a place like this [facility] or would you rather they had somewhere to go to come off everything? You’re not in control of your own life in an injecting room, you become dependent on them,” she said.
“You could open up 100 injecting rooms but it’s not going to decrease the amount of people using drugs, it just helps in getting a few of them off the streets.”
Ms Byrne went on to talk about the likes of Sweden’s “drug free policy” as opposed to our “harm reduction policy” where she says “we deal with the symptoms.”
“They know drugs are going to harm people so they find a way to help people come off the drugs rather than let users continue to take them,” she said.
“They give people a choice; they can go to the courts and go down that road or they go to a residential programme where they are required to come off the drugs. They could be there for up to six months and the programme allows them to discover that they’re there because people care about them and they find out why their drug use started,” Ms Byrne says.
Currently it is an offense to permit the preparation or possession of a controlled substance on a premises but the bill under review would exempt license providers from this, allowing drug users to legally inject on the premises with the permission of the license provider.
“How are they going to police that?” asked Ms Byrne. “People will say they’re going to the injecting facility when carrying a substance that is illegal which is still being bought off the cartels. It doesn’t make sense.”
Ireland’s current methadone programme—which aims to wean users off of heroin—costs around €20 million each year to operate.
“If you could take any amount of money and put it into prevention and recovery programmes for addiction we would take the pressure off of our hospital’s, A&E and so on,” Ms Byrne continues.
“If someone starts using drugs at an early age we have one centre for them to go to in the entire country. We have 200 residential programmes, 40 detox beds and 10,000 people being given methadone, so we have a country that is very pro drug use,” she said.
“It makes no practical sense, it’s like having a tear in your jacket and waiting until it gets really big before you fix it.”
‘Harm reduction’ policies which call for the likes of methadone clinics became popular among European countries in the 1990’s after fears of the spread of HIV and other diseases.
The aim of this policy is to reduce the damage drugs can cause to the user. Methadone clinics decrease the amount of users taking illegal drugs, but thousands then become dependent on the drug as a result.
The proposed injection site obviously holds the same concept, but the question is should we be leaning towards and investing in a more prevention and recovery first approach?
- Listen here to find out what some drug users think of the planned injection facility, along with Minister Catherine Byrne on RTÉ Radio.
- Listen here for concerns from schools and businesses in the proposed Dublin city area on Newstalk Drivetime.