Legal move to provide heroin use sites

A leading addiction service has sought the expertise of the Bar Council to draft proposed laws which would allow addicts to legally inject heroin in a medical setting.

Legal move to provide heroin use sites

The proposal is one of two measures being pushed by the Ana Liffey Drug Project in a bid to address public injecting and overdoses.

Ana Liffey director Tony Duffin said the number of overdoses was resulting in “one death a day”.

Figures published on Monday by the Health Research Board showed there were 350 deaths from the toxic effects of drugs in 2012.

Mr Duffin said a medically supervised injecting centre would allow users to inject safely and away from the public gaze.

“They are a very successful intervention, with over 90 centres in countries throughout the world. Not only do they contribute to reducing public injecting and unsafe disposal, they also help people attending to tackle their addictions through dedicated access to treatment programmes.”

He said that it would currently be illegal to provide such a service in Ireland and that they were working with barristers at the Bar Council to prepare draft legislation which would allow such services would exist.

In 2005, the government’s drug advisory body said that injecting rooms should be considered, particularly for homeless heroin users.

It said the facilities might allow more hygienic injecting practices and reduce street-based injecting and overdoses.

In 2010, a major assessment by the EU drugs agency said such services improve drug users’ access to health and social care, as well as cut down on public use.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction said there were more than 90 such facilities across the world.

Mr Duffin accepted there might be public opposition to injecting centres, but said that for every €1 spent on treatment, countries can save up to €2.50 in other costs, such as public health benefits and cutting crime.

He said another of their proposals — for a low-threshold residential stabilisation service — was also not available in Ireland at the moment, but was in places like Glasgow and London.

The service would get addicts in very quickly and provide treatment for what are “multiple and complex needs”.

“It would be Ireland’s first residential stabilisation service of its kind for people with addiction problems, providing the direct access, medical stabilisation, clinical assistance and mental health care that these people need as they present to the service,” said Mr Duffin.

“In return, we are confident that the local community will see a reduction in crime, anti-social behaviour and drug-taking in the streets and alleys.”

Meanwhile, medical experts have expressed concern at treatment services for the abuse of prescription tranquillisers known as benzodiazepines and alcohol, often in conjunction with methadone or sometimes heroin.

The HRB report said 75% of all poisonings involved prescription drugs and alcohol, and a quarter involved illegal drugs.

Dr Garrett McGovern said statutory treatment services did not address benzodiazepines and alcohol addiction adequately and that they were geared towards opiates.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said an additional €2.1m was being spent by the HSE for measures under the National Drugs Strategy targeting vulnerable problem drug users.

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