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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 19 September, 2018
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'Truly it will save lives': Dublin supervised injecting centre to be operated by Merchants Quay

The organisation already provides a drop-in service, Night Cafe and other supports for people who are homeless.

Updated at 6pm

THE COUNTRY’S FIRST supervised drug injecting centre will be operated by Merchants Quay Project, the HSE announced this morning.

Merchants Quay already provides a drop-in service, Night Cafe and other supports for people who are homeless and struggling with addiction issues in Dublin.

Its support centre is based at the Riverbank building on the quayside of the Liffey.

The new facility will provide access to clean, sterile injecting equipment and have trained staff on hand to provide emergency care in the event of an overdose. Staff will also provide advice on treatment and rehabilitation.

Proponents of such centres argue that they also help alleviate the problems associated with injecting on the street, including drug-related litter.

There are over 100 such clinics around the world (the first ‘official’ one was opened in Switzerland in 1986) and most are located in European countries.

An evaluation group established to review the tenders for the project included HSE Procurement, HSE Social Inclusion, an academic expert, An Garda Síochana, Dublin City Council and an external public health expert.

It is envisaged that the preferred bidder will operate the facility for an 18 month period, by means of a licence to be granted under the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injection Facilities) Act 2017.

1 Injecting cubicles in the Sydney supervised injecting centre. Source: Rick Rycroft

Three deadlines for the announcement of who would be awarded the tender to operate the centre have been missed in recent months.

Announcements had been expected in November and December, with the HSE initially saying that the pilot project was anticipated to open before the end of 2017.

The opening of a pilot project has been a part of government drug policy for several years.

The 2016 Programme for Government explicitly stated that the current government “will support a health-led rather than criminal justice approach to drugs use including legislating for injection rooms”.

However, the plans met a number of snags, including delays in legislation and resistance from local businesses.

New laws needed to be passed to make the operation of such centres possible in Ireland – that happened last May, and the management and operation of a pilot centre was put out to tender by the HSE in August.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Planning

It emerged late last year that planning permission would be required for whichever organisation won the tender to operate the project.

The Dublin Business Alliance – a lobby group made up of the Licensed Vintners Association, the Restaurants Association and the Temple Bar Company – has been vocally opposed to the introduction of supervised injecting centres, and sought a number of Section 5 Declarations in relation to planning laws around the centres.

Essentially, a Section 5 Declaration is lodged to determine whether planning permission is needed to change the use of a premises into an injecting centre.

It was determined that for a number of premises listed in the tendering process, planning permission would have to be sought before an injecting centre could be opened there.

The DBA argued that the laws underpinning injecting centres are not properly thought out.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The Ana Liffey Drug Project, which researched and originated the legislation to underpin the setting up a pilot injecting centre, had also tendered for the project.

“This is an important public health initiative for responding to this reality of people injecting drugs on our streets,” Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne said in a statement today.

This pilot facility seeks to bring vulnerable people into a safe and clean supervised setting while also helping to reduce drug litter and open injecting in our communities.
The establishment of a pilot supervised injecting facility is a key action in Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, our health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland.
It is also in line with the Programme for a Partnership Government. This is a very welcome development and critical to the success of this pilot initiative will be the engagement with all stakeholders, including the local community.

Dr Eamon Keenan, National Clinical Lead of HSE Addiction Services, said today’s announcement was ”a significant public health development in Ireland” which would allow “a marginalised group of society, injecting drug users who may be homeless, to access a harm reduction service that will improve their health, access them into a range of medical and social services, and contribute towards a reduction in drug related deaths”.

‘Wrong decision’

But some were not happy.

Independent Dublin City Councillor Cieran Perry said he was disappointed that the HSE continued with the process of opening a supervised injection centre in Dublin.

Perry said This is the wrong decision. There is no evidence based research that Supervised Injection Centres work and I believe they normalise drug use at a time when we should be encouraging detox and rehab. The money spent on this facility would be far better spent on funding services to help those suffering from addiction.”

Today’s HSE statement said that a key element in the success of the pilot would be “a demonstration of consultation and ongoing engagement with local stakeholders from the surrounding area”.

Merchants Quay Project will be required to have in place a specific plan in this regard and will be required to employ a community liaison worker to engage local businesses, communities and residents in a meaningful manner.
An external evaluation of the pilot phase of the facility will be carried out by an independent agent engaged by the HSE.

It added that specific structures would be put in place to ensure proper “operational, clinical and supervisory governance arrangements”.

This will include a clinical governance committee to ensure the facility is providing “appropriate clinical intervention to attendees and that these interventions are in line with international best practice”.

‘Positive step’

CEO of Merchants Quay Ireland Tony Geoghegan said:

“With one person a day dying from a drug overdose, this is a real positive step in taking a proactive and progressive approach to drug policy. Truly it will save lives.

We know that engagement with drug treatment works, however successful treatment and rehabilitation is only possible if someone is still alive.
This opening of a supervised injecting facility (SIF) shows that as a society we are putting some of Ireland’s most vulnerable people first and providing a much needed service.

Tony Duffin, the CEO of Ana Liffey Drug Project, said it was an “historic day for people who inject drugs in Dublin and for addiction services in Ireland”.

“We will support our friends at Merchants Quay Ireland in their work to establish the pilot Dublin medically supervised injecting centre and we will work to help them ensure it is a success.

This service is designed to improve public amenity, improve the health of people who use it and be cost effective. Now the focus must turn to ensuring that it delivers these outcomes, so that other medically supervised injecting centres may be licensed as soon as possible.

In line with protocol, a 14-day standstill will now be observed prior to the formal award, the HSE said.

Read: ‘It takes me away from this world for the day’: Life as a homeless drug-user on the streets of Dublin >

Read: ‘An example of how bad it can get’: We counted 13 syringes down this tiny Dublin alleyway >

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