Saturday 18 November 2017

Terry Prone: Injection centres are needed now – but they must be mobile


It didn’t matter that his face was pixilated to protect his identity.

What the pictures of a drug user off O’Connell Street, published in this newspaper yesterday, showed was an addict way past caring about anything but getting a fix as quickly as possible.

Jeans at half-mast, needle jammed in his thigh in a public place. No privacy. No shame. Nothing left but the need to shoot up.

If he survives long enough, a time may come when treatment is an option for him and a life clean of drugs a possibility.

Good luck with that, we all say, and we mean it. But while a half hoped for benign outcome may be good for the long-term, it is not what’s needed right now.

What’s needed right now is to facilitate drug-taking.

If that sounds like the permissive noises of someone eager to get more people hooked, it’s the opposite.

It’s an expression of a few interlinked imperatives, starting with the requirement to re-assert our right to a civilised capital city.

That matters, of course, to tourists. We pride ourselves on the warmth of the welcome we offer to the people who visit this country. When we see backpackers consulting maps at street corners, we stop and offer to help.

We do it, not because we value their business (although we most decidedly do value their business).

We do it because it says something about the wonders of our gorgeous city to see the visitors it attracts and how they enjoy themselves when they’re here. All of us also have the unspoken hope that these visitors won’t be mugged while they’re here and that they won’t happen to pass an area where desperate junkies are shooting up heroin.

Because we’d like to protect the visitors from seeing that, and we’d like to  protect the addicts from their own unfelt shame.


Just as we’d like to protect children going to school from the awful reality of addiction.

In theory, providing safe injection centres would do all of that. Except that, like everything involved in drug addiction, it’s more complicated than that. Fixed, permanent injection rooms pose precisely the same locality problems that drug treatment clinics pose.

It’s simple. Both attract drug addicts, and if drug addicts as individual human beings are frightening to the rest of the community, drug addicts in groups are even more frightening as they regularly arrive to a particular location.

That’s not a good reason for abandoning the idea of injection rooms, but it’s a good reason for making those facilities mobile. Just like mobile libraries.

I’m not kidding. Mobile libraries are a sensible non-judgemental assistance to people who might not otherwise have access to books.

Mobile injection centres are a sensible non-judgemental assistance to people who might, by trekking to centres in fixed locations, change the tenor of a neighbourhood.

Mobile centres have to be in particular sites at particular times, because in the chaotic life of an addict, absolute certainty is needed when it comes to being able to shoot up.

That, in turn, creates ancillary problems. But none of those problems are as immediately, horribly sad as the sight of a desperate junkie shooting up on the street. 

That’s the real and present danger, and if we address it with speed and sensitivity, it can fit into the new understanding of substance abuse that’s beginning to take hold.

It might even see Dublin take a progressive lead on an apparently intractable issue – a sad strand in the rich fabric that is our capital.

The Minister for Drugs, Aodhan O Riordain, understands that when it comes to desperate, life-destroying drug addiction, all we Dubliners can do is come up with least-worst options – such as injection centres.

We need to support him and the other professionals who share his outlook, to effect this change. 

We need injection rooms. We need them now. And we need them on wheels.

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