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Is the government giving up on medically supervised drug injecting centres?

A new Misuse of Drugs Bill brought to government this week contains no mention of the centres.

File photo of a needle and blood in the streets of Dublin.
File photo of a needle and blood in the streets of Dublin.
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

PROVISIONS FOR MEDICALLY supervised injecting centres aren’t included in the latest proposed new drug laws that were brought to government this week.

Health minister Simon Harris brought a bill to government on Tuesday to do with making the possession of certain drugs illegal.

The Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill was originally brought forward by the last government and had been given the go-ahead in December before the Dáil was dissolved.

Contained in the original bill were provisions for the introduction of medically supervised injecting centres – where drug users would be able to go to take drugs watched over by trained healthcare professionals.

Then-drugs minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin was strongly in favour of the centres, and of moving from treating chronic drug use as a criminal issue to a medical one.

However, the proposed new laws brought to government on Tuesday make no mention of the medically supervised injecting centres, and instead focus solely on making the possession of certain drugs illegal.

Speaking in the Seanad on Wednesday in response to a question from Senator Lynn Ruane, Minister Harris said that the Drugs Bill had now been split into two.

This, the minister said, was to help gardaí to “respond to the situation in the north inner city” involving the recent drug and gangland crime.

download (5) Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

The proposed new laws that Harris brought to government, which he said he hopes to have close to passing before the Oireachtas breaks for the summer, will make it illegal for people to possess a number of prescription drugs.

These include certain types of benzodiazepines and other prescription drugs like Z drugs. Anyone who has a valid prescription will be allowed to carry the drugs as normal.

As well as this, the new laws will make illegal the possession of certain drugs that have been in the media spotlight in recent months; these include the psychoactive substances N-Bomb (which was responsible for the death of an 18-year-old in January), and Clockwork Orange (which has been linked to deaths in the border counties).

download (6) File photo of 25I-NBOMe Source: Shelby County Drug Enforcement Task Force

“To be clear, the Government resolved to give the Garda whatever tools it felt it needed to respond to the situation in the north inner city and this was one tool [a] Garda asked to be put in its toolkit,” Harris said.

So what about the injecting centres?

Now a senator after losing his Dáil seat, Ó Ríordáin has hit out at the government’s failure to include provisions for the injecting centres in the new laws.

“There is absolutely no reason for this important legislation to be progressed through two separate bills,” the Labour politician said.

It is clear that Fine Gael ministers want to give the impression of action but want to delay any move that doesn’t fit with their ‘law and order’ approach to social problems.

13/2/2016 General Election Campaigns Starts Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

“I don’t understand why they can’t pass all the legislation all in one go,” the former drugs minister told TheJournal.ie.

Why isn’t it ready? The Cabinet passed the heads of bill last December. It’s now May. The legislation was actually drafted by the Bar Council – it’s ready to go.
There’s consensus on the injecting centres… I don’t see the reason for separating the bill.
It appears that they want to do this part – the non-contentious part – of the bill and the other part they can long-finger off into the distance.
 All the while you’ve people dying of drug overdoses in public places… all the time.

download (7) Ó Ríordáin as drugs minister inspecting laneways in inner city Dublin last December. Source: TheJournal.ie

However, by its own account the government its still committed to bringing in the injecting rooms and to moving towards a health-led approach to tackling drug use.

The commitment in its Programme for Government reads:

We will support a health-led rather than criminal justice approach to drugs use including legislating for injection rooms.

On top of this, speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny reiterated the government’s commitment to bring forward laws to allow for the introduction of the centres in the autumn:

“Regarding the supervised injecting rooms, the Minister for Health expects to bring the relevant Bill before the House in autumn of this year,” Kenny said, in response to a question from Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien.

Government commitments

Harris also said in the Seanad that he was committed to introducing the injecting centres in the autumn.

“I reaffirm the Government’s commitment to doing this, which is a commitment in the programme for Government,” he said.

30/5/2016. Emergency Department Taskforce Meetings Health minister Simon Harris (File photo). Source: RollingNews.ie

While the government has committed to the injecting centres, it is clear that any legislation allowing for them won’t be passed in this Dáil session.

No new laws have yet been passed by the current government. Ó Ríordáin said that it is unlikely that the government will focus on two separate drugs bills while so much other legislation needs to be passed.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said that the delay was because the laws were “quite complex”.

“This legislation is quite complex and it is not possible to proceed with it in this Dáil session,” the spokesperson said.

It will be the subject of a second Misuse of Drugs Bill which it is expected will be published in the autumn.

Tony Duffin, director of the Ana Liffey Drug Project which works with drug addicts in Dublin city centre, said that it was “very important” that laws allowing for medically supervised injecting centres pass through the Dáil.

“Having the legislation passed in terms of supervised injecting centres is an absolute priority,” said Duffin.

People have died recently whose lives would have been saved in a supervised centre. No one has ever died in an injection facility.

Read: The needles on the cobbles are nothing new – but the human excrement is shocking

Read: The new government has committed to bringing in drug injection rooms

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