Plans for Ireland's first supervised drug injecting centre have hit a stumbling block after Dublin City Council decided it needs planning permission.
The centre is to allow addicts to inject illegal drugs purchased elsewhere under the supervision of a health professional.
The HSE had hoped to bypass the usual planning process, as the centre was set to be run as a pilot project for 18 months.
The news comes in the wake of an EU drugs agency report which underlined the effectiveness of such facilities.
However, it has been reported that the Dublin Business Alliance has objected to the location of the centre and queried whether it needed planning permission.
Elsewhere, Eoin English of the Irish Examiner reports that several sites in Cork City have been identified as possible locations for a supervised drug injecting room.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction said there is growing evidence that supervised injecting facilities (SIFs) are able to reach marginalised users; improve injecting practices; and reduce the visibility of public drug use.
The agency said that while there is an “increasing awareness” of the potential of such State-backed facilities to reduce harms to communities affected, it was important to consult and engage with communities where the rooms are to be located.
The HSE has declined to reveal the shortlisted Cork locations ahead of the launch and piloting of the Dublin facility, and pending confirmation of the estimated €1m in annual funding required to deliver such a service.
“We would love to have a supervised drug injecting facility on our menu of services,” said David Lane, the HSE’s head of alcohol and drug services in Cork and Kerry.
“It would be a fantastic tool in terms of public health. It’s about saving lives in the first instance. We have worked closely with the community and voluntary sector in Cork over the last 12 months and have done a lot of groundwork in identifying possible suitable locations in Cork City.”
A SIF is a clean, safe environment where people can inject drugs, obtained elsewhere, under the supervision of trained health professionals. SIF staff provide users with sterile injecting equipment, counselling, and an emergency response in the event of overdose. Health and addiction experts say SIFs can play a key role in reducing both street injecting and the risk of drug-related deaths.
Health Research Board figures show 354 people died in 2014 due to drug poisoning. One in four of these deaths was caused by heroin. Half of all heroin-related deaths were people who inject drugs. Between 2012 and 2014, there were 25 drug-related deaths among people who inject drugs in public places in Dublin and 18 drug-related deaths among people who inject drugs and who were in touch with homeless services.
In a major shift in policy, the Government approved the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill in December 2015 to allow for SIFs, paving the way for work to establish a pilot SIF in the capital.
Public injecting and drug litter has also become a major problem in Cork City where the city’s heroin user population has remained steady at around 500 for the last two years. Mr Lane said the static numbers reflect a more proactive approach to drug users adopted by the HSE in Cork in recent years, with an outreach worker engaging directly with active drug users. Two biohazard bins have also been installed in the city — on Wellington Rd and on the Fever Hospital steps.
“They are working and have been effective in tackling drug litter in public places,” said Mr Lane.
A handful of addicts do not engage with the services, Mr Lane said, but those addicts who engage do not have to wait very long to avail of the HSE’s suite of addiction services.
“We don’t have a significant waiting list and people are seen quite quickly,” said Mr Lane.
He said he has seen first-hand how a SIF in Sydney’s once-notorious King’s Cross area has saved lives.
“It’s been running for about 14 years and they have had many overdoses but they haven’t lost a single life,” he said.