The finding comes as drugs minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin considers legal proposals to set up Ireland’s first medically supervised injecting centre.
The proposals were drawn up by the Bar Council on behalf of the Ana Liffey Drug Project to combat the open injecting of drugs in Dublin city centre and the dangers posed to addicts and other people.
A special paper published yesterday by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, together with their annual report, shows that six of the centre’s member countries operate such centres.
It said there are 70 drug-consumption rooms in Denmark, Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Norway and that France had recently approved a six-year trial project. In its analysis, the drug monitoring centre said drug consumption rooms provide a “local response to local problems”.
It said: “Drug consumption rooms can play a role in reducing drug-related harms (including overdose deaths) and serve as useful spaces to connect hard-to-reach drug users with health services.”
The monitoring centre’s scientific director Paul Griffiths said that such facilities were “quite controversial” some years ago, but were now less so.
“There is some evidence they can be useful as a measure of overdose prevention and as a useful conduit to care.”
The paper said the centres have been operating in Europe for three decades. It said concerns have sometimes been expressed that they might encourage drug use, delay treatment or aggravate local drug markets.
It said immediate benefits for the users include “hygiene and safer use for clients as well as wider health and public order benefits”.
It said research had shown reductions in injecting risk behaviour such as syringe sharing, but said the impact on reducing HIV or hepatitis C was unclear. The paper noted that such centres may contribute to reducing drug-related deaths at city level and increase uptake of drug treatment.
Studies found “an overall positive impact on communities”, but said “consultation with local key actors is essential”. The facilities can result in a decrease in public injecting and a reduction in discarded needles.
In summary, the report read: “The benefits of providing supervised drug consumption facilities may include improvements in safe, hygienic drug use, especially among regular clients; increased access to health and social services; and reduced public drug use and associated nuisance.
“There is no evidence to suggest the availability of safer facilities increases drug use or frequency of injecting. These services facilitate rather than delay treatment entry and do not result in higher rates of local drug-related crime.”
The report said that new forms of stimulant injection, including psychoactive substances, has resulted in “potentially increased risks for drug users”.
Last week the Irish Examiner reported an apparent rise in HIV cases among injecting drug users in Dublin, with some indications it may be linked to the injection of mephedrone, the former legal high.
The annual report highlights that the highest level of use in the last year of so-called legal highs was reported by young people from Ireland at 9%. This is despite laws in 2010 and 2011 placing a general ban on the sale of such drugs in headshops. The Health Research Board, which provides the Irish data to the drug monitoring centre, said the “use of new psychoactive substances appears to have decreased since the introduction of legislation in 2010 and 2011”.
It said this was “evidenced by a reduction in the number of adverse events reported”.
Welcoming the report, Mr Ó Ríordáin said: “Like other European countries, Ireland faces major challenges ahead due to the rapid emergence and spread of new psychoactive substances; the changing nature of the heroin market; the ageing population of heroin users and the increased demand for treatment by those with cannabis- related problems.”