Gardaí face huge challenges in policing supervised injecting centres, and legal issues need to be “teased out” before they are introduced, a senior officer has said.
Chief Superintendent Frances Clerkin said that if something can be done to assist drug users leading difficult lives “we should do it”.
In one of the first public Garda pronouncements on the controversial service —which is now government policy — Chief Supt Clerkin said research was not clear if drug-related crime would increase or decrease with injecting centres.
The divisional officer for Dublin South Central was speaking at a packed seminar to discuss the pros and cons of supervised injecting centres, organised by Merchants Quay Ireland and the Ana Liffey Drug Project.
There was a mixed reaction to the service, with support from drug services and some locals, but also concerns and opposition from a number of medical professionals, some local businesses, and local schools.
Legislation enabling the facility is due before the Oireachtas by January, with the Government hoping to have a pilot centre in Dublin city centre by the summer.
Professor Catherine Comiskey, chairperson of the State’s National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol, said international research showed drug consumption rooms “work” in reducing mortality, morbidity and crime if they are part of a wider strategy.
She said there were 88 consumption rooms in Europe, across eight countries. They do attract the target group — public injectors — and reduce their health risks, she said, noting there was no increase in drug-related crime. She said the contention that such centres attract more crime and dug use was a “myth”.
But she said the centres are only effective if they are integrated into a wider policy and network of services. She said it was “unrealistic” to expect they will prevent all public drug use or solve problems of drug dealing.
Trinity College academic Emma Atkin-Brenninkmeyer presented findings of her research on the practicalities of an injecting centre and the concerns of users, staff, medical professionals and policy makers.
One issue for staff was not crossing the “ethical line” between demonstrating and assisting safer injecting. Both staff and medical professionals were concerned about dealing with users who have children.
Dublin city councillor Cieran Perry said the drug service industry and the media were “pushing” the agenda and said there was no debate in the community.
Dr Íde Delargy, director of substance misuse at the College of GPs, said introducing such a facility at this point would be like “putting a roof on a very shaky building” and said the resources should be spent on improving treatment services first.
Former drugs minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said injecting rooms were fundamentally about “saving lives”.
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