herald

Monday 5 December 2016

Injection centres have had positive impact in Sydney, says director

Dr Marianne Jauncey says injecting centres in Sydney have helped reduce public drug use
Dr Marianne Jauncey says injecting centres in Sydney have helped reduce public drug use

An expert in medically supervised injection centres (MSICs) has said that such a facility in Dublin will help the capital solve the problem of public drug use.

Dr Marianne Jauncey, director of an MSIC in Kings Cross in Sydney, has been watching Ireland's move towards opening injection centres with interest.

The Cabinet approved new legislation this week giving the green light for a trial centre to open in Dublin.

There are many parallels with what Ireland is experiencing at the moment with what happened in Australia before the Sydney centre opened in 2001.

Confusion

"There was lots of confusion, poor understanding and misconceptions about what it was and what it meant," she said.

Community support for the centre was strong in the Kings Cross area at the time and has steadily increased since then.

"Kings Cross has been the site of the sale, purchase and use of drugs for many, many decades, so the community was well aware of the problems.

"It was they who had to walk over bodies, it was they who stepped over needles and paraphernalia, who heard the roar of ambulances.

"They were dealing with it in an in-your-face way, so the community have always been supportive."

"If the issues you have with drug use is people intoxicated in the street, people shooting up in front of you, exactly what you want is an injection centre."

Reaction to the prospect of such facilities here has been mixed, but Dr Jauncey said people need to think practically.

"We'd all like it if drugs just went away, but if we've not been able to stop drug use and supply in prisons - some of the most highly regulated environments that the world has created - what hope do we think we have in the streets of either Sydney or Dublin?" she said.

In the MSIC where she works there is space for 16 users to inject at one time. During the busiest period, staff process around 220 visits a day.

The issue of policing of the centres will now be tackled by the Government.

In Sydney, there is no exclusion zone around the centres, but there is a "practical" approach on the ground, said Dr Jauncey.

"It's a bit odd because it does go from being legal to illegal," she said.

"In the letter of the law, that begins at our front door and ends at our back door. In practice, the police have been supportive of our centre."

MSICs allow users to inject illegal street drugs under supervision, but this was an area of concern among officials in the Department of Health while the terms of the new legislation were being ironed out.

Chaotic

In an email, written after a meeting between Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Drugs Minister Aodhan O Riordain in July, Department of Health principal officer Eugene Lennon outlined concerns about allowing users to inject street heroin.

"The issue of legally prescribed heroin versus street heroin was considered," he wrote.

"While allowing use of illegal drugs would create more legal difficulties, it might be more appropriate for the types of users who might benefit from injecting rooms - homeless addicts living chaotic lives."

The Government has ruled out providing so-called legal heroin for use in the centres.

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