Drugs minister urged to look at supervised injecting centres plan
MINISTER Aodhan O Riordain hasn't ruled out the prospect of Australian-style medically supervised injecting centres (MSICs) to help battle the capital's drug problem.
The Herald asked the newly-appointed drugs minister about his views on the centres in light of Ana Liffey Drug Project director Tony Duffin saying that they would help tackle the problem of addicts openly injecting in the streets.
While not saying he is in favour of introducing MSICs here, Mr O Riordain said his department is developing a new National Drugs Strategy and will be examining the approach to drugs policy in other jurisdictions.
The issue of addicts injecting themselves in public was highlighted recently when this newspaper revealed how thousands of used needles were been picked up by council workers in St Audeon's Park on the south side of the city last year.
Addicts have also been injecting themselves openly in the tourist area, which is near a school.
Mr Duffin recently spent two weeks in Sydney where he saw MSICs in operation and said they had many positives.
"Nobody has died from an overdose in a supervised centre yet people die on the streets all the time.
"Some people don't like the idea of MSICs because they fear it brings drug addicts to an area, but in reality you put centres in places where addicts already congregate to inject," he said.
"The problem of open drug taking is not confined to St Audoen's Park, but is city-wide. And if you stop it in one place with increased garda patrols you just drive it elsewhere and the problem moves to another place," he added.
"Supervised centres are not a total solution but they are part of the solution that will have an immediate impact on open drug taking".
Mr Duffin said the Ana Liffey Drug Project is working with a group of barristers to write draft legislation needed to change the law which would open the way for MSICs.
"We hope to have that ready to present to health minister Leo Varadkar by the end of June," he said.
Asked about MSICs, Mr O Riordain said the development of his department's new drugs strategy "will include a review of the evidence in relation to the extent and nature of problem drug use in Ireland and an examination of the approach to drugs policy in other jurisdictions.
"This work will help to assess the effectiveness of the current drugs policy and to identify any additional evidence-based approaches which might be considered in an Irish context."
He said a 2010 European report "found some evidence that drug consumption facilities can be effective for difficult-to-reach populations of drug users.
"However, the report noted that there was insufficient research, to draw conclusions with regard to the effectiveness of these facilities in reducing HIV or hepatitis C (HCV) incidence," Mr O Riordain added.
He said government policy "emphasises the importance of providing the opportunities for people to move on from illicit drug use, through drug treatment and rehabilitation, to a drug-free life where that is achievable," he said.
"The preferred approach is the provision of harm reduction measures, such as needle exchange services and methadone maintenance treatment," he added.
Meanwhile, Assistant Chief Executive of Dublin City Council Brendan Kenny said the council are liaising with local community groups, drug centres and the gardai to try and overcome the problem in St Audoen's.
Gardai are "constantly reviewing the deployment of manpower and resources within their district to combat crime, drug and anti-social behaviour," a garda spokesman said on the matter.