Calls for action after three drug deaths in the last week

Outgoing drugs strategy minister Aodhán Ó’Ríordáin has joined calls for action on the drugs problem after three suspected drug-related deaths in the last week.

Sinn Féin drugs spokesman Jonathan O’Brien said on Wednesday that, last week, a 19-year-old man died from an overdose in Cork.

It followed the deaths of two men in Dublin’s north inner city: One whose body was not discovered for a week at a stairwell in a flats complex and another who died in public toilets in Connolly Station.

“I’m trying to get my head around the fact that three people have died from drugs, something that is killing people on the streets, yet there are no vigils, no protests, no media scrum, no questions to the Taoiseach,” said Mr Ó’Ríordáin.

The former Labour TD, who narrowly lost his Dublin Bay North seat in the election, contrasts the response to that of homeless man Jonathan Corrie, who was found dead just yards from Leinster House in December 2014.

“There was a huge public reaction to his death, which was totally understandable,” said Mr Ó’Ríordáin. “But we have stark and devastating deaths last week and there’s nothing. Culturally, there is a sense that if you die from hypothermia you deserve sympathy, but if you die from a drug overdose there is little or none — and that feeds into a sense of blame.”

Mr O’Brien, TD for Cork North Central, told the Dáil on Wednesday: “We have an ever-increasing number of people losing their lives through addiction. Last week, in Cork, a 19-year-old tragically lost his life because of an overdose.”

He said drug use should not be treated as a criminal issue and that a humane, harm reduction approach is needed.

He said plans for a pilot medically-supervised injecting centre in Dublin — which was backed by the Cabinet last December — “must be processed regardless of who is in government”.

“These plans must also be replicated across the State,” said Mr O’Brien. “Dublin is not the only place where there are addicts in need of medical advice and a safe place to conduct themselves.”

Mr Ó’Ríordáin, who is now standing for the Senate, said he “didn’t know” where plans for a pilot centre are at, saying it is included in the Misuse of Drugs Bill and that it is up to the next health minister or drugs strategy minister to progress.

“I hope that debate does not slip off the agenda,” he said.

Tony Duffin, director of the Ana Liffey Project, described the recent deaths as “tragic lonely endings”. He that said injectors often use alleyways and public toilets, but said this “concealment and isolation increases the risk of a fatal overdose”.

He called on the new government to prioritise the injecting centre.

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