Aodhán Ó Ríordáin urges safe spaces for drug users

Addicts should be legally allowed to bring their own heroin to State-sanctioned injection centres, drugs minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has indicated.

Mr Ó Ríordáin hopes to sweep away the legal obstacle to the centres within months, with “safe spaces” opening in Cork and other cities if an initial Dublin venue proves a success.

The minister said Ireland needs to undergo a “cultural shift” in its attitudes towards drugs and stop viewing users as criminals.

Mr Ó Ríordáin, who is in favour of decriminalising all drugs, said it is “insanity” to treat someone injecting on the street as a criminal.

The minister expects legal obstacles to allowing addicts to inject illegal drugs in “safe centres” to be cleared by the end of the year before the process of setting-up the first project starts. An indemnity would be needed in case of deaths due to contaminated drugs being taken on the premises.

Cabinet approval is being sought by the minister for the idea of a medically supervised injection centre, and Mr Ó Ríordáin said it could be the case users bring their own heroin with them, rather than be provided with a heroin substitute.

“We have to trouble-shoot all the issues that could come from that,” he said. “What happens if a guard happens across someone who is coming to an injection centre, what happens if someone inside drops their own heroin and someone else picks it up? Is that supply?

“It is a way of addressing a situation where you have about 100 or so addicts in Dublin City, very vulnerable drug users who are openly injecting in parks, alley ways, and playgrounds. It is not safe for them, it’s not healthy for them. They can contract illnesses and diseases, like Hep C and HIV, and it’s unsightly for people who are witnessing it.

“For the basic humanity of the person who wants to be in recovery, who wants to move away from that situation, this could be a first step to recovery. I think we have to find a space where we can test things out.”

Mr Ó Ríordáin said that he favours following Portugal’s example and decriminalising all drugs, but thinks Ireland is “a long way” from that.

“We have to have a culture change in our attitude to drugs,” he said. “You have to come to a realisation that there is a level of drug use happening. How do we interact with that drug use. Do we just say it’s all wrong, it’s all bad, and treat all of it in a criminal context, or are we a bit more realistic about it?

“A guard comes across somebody injecting in the street and has to treat that person as a criminal. That’s insanity.

“If somebody has a level of drugs on them for their own purpose, that person needs an intervention, but they don’t need to be dragged through the courts. I don’t believe that somebody who takes drugs is a criminal, I believe someone who supplies drugs is involved in criminal activity and that needs to be sorted out.

“It would also help the guards, guards contact me all the time and tell me it’s a complete waste of their time what’s happening. They could focus their attention o the pushers if we decriminalise possession.”

Mr Ó Ríordáin added that 80 “safe space” injection rooms have been introduced around Europe.

Sydney’s medically supervised injection centre has registered more than 12,000 addicts in 15 years.


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