Are addict injecting centres a step too far?

published on May 11, 2015 by Cormac O'Keeffe in Irish Examiner

While the health case for medically supervised injecting centres for addicts has the backing of the drugs minister, a senior garda warns it is a legal minefield, writes Cormac O’Keeffe

A little publicised report recently revealed that Dublin Fire Brigade dealt with 469 opiate overdoses in a 12-month period.

Almost half of them happened on the streets of the city, most of them in the city centre and quite close to drug treatment centres. They were generally men, average age 32, and almost 30% of cases involved drugs other than heroin and methadone, mainly alcohol or benzodiazepines.

In 13 of the cases the overdose was fatal. More than a quarter of cases involved addicts engaged in repeat overdoses and around 60% of cases occurred in the daytime.

The research, entitled Urban Overdose Hotspots, conducted by the UCD School of Medicine, highlighted an issue that was the focus of discussion by drug projects, business people, gardai and politicians at a conference in Dublin last week.

The Better City for All conference heard of efforts that have been made to try and improve the situation, including the Housing First initiative, run by Focus Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust, and the Assertive Case Management Team operated jointly by the Ana Liffey Drug Project and local gardai.

This latter project is a novel initiative, where staff from Ana Liffey work literally side-by-side with gardai to try and reach out to drug addicts who, for a complex range of reasons, are “stuck” on the street, injecting drugs in public and engaged in low-level criminality.

The project is labour intensive but has got 34 people on board and is trying to address their range of needs. But as Dawn Russell of Ana Liffey pointed out, there were two missing pieces. The first was the lack of somewhere safe to inject and secondly, the absence of a low-threshold crisis stabilisation centre.

As if in partial answer to her prayer, next up to speak at the conference was the new drugs minister Aodhan O Riordain. He said that “instinctively” he didn’t see why medically supervised injecting centres “should be an issue” and added: “If there is a legal problem with that, let’s fix it.”

Speaking to the media after, he said: “I think, having people injecting in side- alleys, in unsupervised fashion, is not good for the addict, it’s not good for the city, it’s not good for anybody. So, I don’t think it is too much of an ask to find legislative ways of changing that.

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