Street sale of prescription drugs to be made illegal

A bill tackling the illicit street sale of prescription drugs has been passed in the Seanad.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he introduced the bill “as one part of the whole-of-government approach in dealing with the serious crime situation in the north inner city of Dublin”.

The Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2016 was only introduced to the Seanad on June 23.

The legislation was not due for debate until the autumn but the Government decided to “expedite” it because of the “recent murders in Dublin’s north inner city,” he said.

The main aim of the bill is to bring certain prescription medicines — which are currently being sold on the streets — under the scope of the Misuse of Drugs legislation.

These drugs include the so-called z-drugs — zopiclone and zaleplon, which are ordinarily prescribed for the treatment of insomnia, but are being dealt on the country’s streets.

Former Cork City councillor and Fine Gael senator, Colm Burke, who is his party’s spokesman for health in the Senate, said he is happy the bill passed.

Minister for Health Simon Harris
Minister for Health Simon Harris

“We cannot afford to leave this plod along. However, we need backup supports put in place for drug addicts in the community in terms of treatment and therapy,” he told the Irish Examiner.

The bill will now go to the Dáil for debate.

“The political will is there to have this passed through both houses of the Oireachtas before the summer recess.

“I don’t think it will come back to the Seanad,” added Mr Burke.

Catherine Byrne, the Minister for Drugs, attended the vote on the bill in the Seanad yesterday.

“This is not a political issue, this is a human being issue. Prescription drugs being sold illegally — to me that’s a crime. And this is not just about Dublin,” said Ms Byrne, referring to the nationwide problem of the dealing of prescription drugs.

Catherine Byrne, the Minister for Drugs
Catherine Byrne, the Minister for Drugs

Attempts had been made on Wednesday to amend the bill so as to limit the criminalisation of people addicted to these prescription drugs. Independent Senator Lynn Ruane appealed to fellow senators “to vote with their conscience” in order to protect the most vulnerable in society.

She was trying to limit any unintentional consequences of the legislation, whereby a vulnerable drug user addicted to these prescription medicines purchased on the street, was prosecuted as a result of the proposed law.

Dublin city councillor, Christy Burke, told the Irish Examiner that the street-selling of prescription drugs is not dominated by any main player.

“There is no one gang. The drugs landscape has changed in that regard, there are more people involved with people looking for a quick buck.

“Tablets are cheaper, they’re easy to take and they’re [still] not illegal to sell,” he said.


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