BEFORE THE END of the last Dáil, drugs minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin set the wheels in motion for the opening of Ireland’s first injection centre.
In December plans were approved at cabinet level for the first injection centres to open in Dublin within 12 to 18 months – as long as legislative paths were “unblocked”.
One person who knows more about these injection centres than almost anyone is Liz Evans.
Based in Vancouver, Canada, the trained nurse is a co-founder of North America’s first supervised injection centre, InSite.
Evans has been working in the area for more than 20 years, and the centre was opened in 2003.
Three years into its existence it was hit by the blow of the Conservative Party coming to power in Canada, leading to waves of political opposition to its legality.
After taking a case against the government, Canada’s Supreme Court upheld the constitutional right of the centre to remain open in 2011.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Evans said: “My hope is just to share the story from Vancouver and to just tell my story. I know that people in Dublin have been talking about this issue.”
And it would seem that Dublin has a lot that it can learn from Evans’ experience in Vancouver.
Before the centre opened in 2003, prevalence of HIV in parts of the city matched those in the African nation of Botswana.
In the time that the centre has been opened, life expectancy in these same areas has increased by 10 years, Evans explains.
Some of the statistics the InSite centre puts forward are quite phenomenal:
- An average 700 to 800 users a day
- 2 million injections since it opened
- Around 30 overdoses a month since the centre opened, which staff are on hand to deal with.
By making sure these overdoses happen in a supervised setting, not one person has died in the centre since it opened.
Change in attitude
For Evans – who met with Minister Ó Ríordáin at a conference on drugs policy in London in November - a big thing the injection facility changed in Vancouver was the relationship people had with drug users.
“For me the biggest and the most compelling reason to do this is that it totally transforms our relationships with people,” she explains.
“It tells the people who use drugs that we care about them as human beings and that their lives are not only good because they are clean.”
It is amazing that that act is very, very powerful. I’ve met hundreds of people who have said ‘these people have been so nice to me, and maybe if they’re being nice to me, maybe I can start to be nice to myself’.
Evans will be speaking tonight at the Westin Hotel on Westmoreland Street at 6.30pm. More information can be found on the event’s Facebook page here.