Rachael O’Connor looks at the pros and cons of introducing supervised injection centres for addicts in Ireland.
There have been mixed reactions from the public recently after both the Lord Mayor of Dublin and the Drugs Minister came out in favour of supervised injection centres for addicts in Dublin.
What this would essentially mean is that drug addiction would be seen as a medical issue rather than a criminal one.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this proposal - the foreseen disagreements with this proposal would be the expense it would take to build and run the centres, and some may ask where the Government’s priorities are in a country that is still very much feeling the effects of the recession.
Other concerns are of the possible damage they may have on the tourism industry, or that having condoned spaces for injection may spread a message of encouraging drug use.
Responding to the potential concerns, Lord Mayor of Dublin, Críona Ní Dhálaigh explained: “I understand people’s concerns that MSIC would just encourage drug use, but there is no evidence to suggest that the availability of safer injecting facilities increases drug use or frequency of injecting.”
Other countries, such as the Netherlands, have these injection centres in operation, and they have been proven to work. Addicts have a safe place to inject under medical supervision, their quality of life is found to have improved, and crime directly related to heroin has fallen.
Most likely the best thing that would come from these centres were they to open would be the fact that the drug related paraphernalia would be kept to certain condoned areas.
At the moment, needles are being found on the streets, on beaches, in playgrounds and even on public transport - in January of this year, a 6 year old boy was rushed to hospital after pricking his finger with a used needle on a Dublin bus.
Should the proposed centres open as planned, paraphernalia would be mostly contained to these spots, and addicts would not have to inject and be under the influence on the streets. It would be safer for everyone.
Ms. Ní Dhálaigh explained: “It’s not acceptable or safe that people are over dosing down alleyways, it is also totally unacceptable that communities have to try and walk their own streets that are littered with unsafely discarded syringes.
“MSIC would take public injecting off the streets and provide a safer alternative that benefits everyone. Other countries who have such facilities have experienced a reduction in injecting in public places and a reduction in discarded used syringes and drug-related litter.”
Of course, the situation is not completely black and white. It has to be asked where the line would be drawn. There are no plans as of yet for the centres to provide the drugs, so money will still be going to heroin dealers.
"In Amsterdam, the drugs are provided by the nurses, guaranteeing a safer high. In Ireland however, there would still be no way to tell how clean the drugs are - there is a high possibility that deaths could occur within the centres, but if this were to happen it would be because of ‘dirty’ drugs rather than accidental overdoses."
While I personally agree with the idea of having a safe area for addicts in which to inject, and do believe it is important that addiction is viewed as a medical and social issue rather than a criminal one, it should also be a high priority within the Government to prevent the causes of addiction in the first place.
High statistics of poverty, depression and deprivation can all lead to substance abuse, and because the current answer to these problems is jail time rather than medical assistance, it makes people more reluctant to seek help.
Should the plans for supervised injection centres go forward, it could be the first step in truly tackling Ireland’s drug problem, rather than the all-out ‘War on Drugs’, which criminalises and de-humanizes some of the people most in need of help.
Dublin’s Lord Mayor understands this issue and in a clear and genuine manner she added: “I support this initiative on a pilot basis as we have to think differently, creatively and above all else compassionately.”