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'A great day for drug policy in Ireland': Supervised injecting centres get go-ahead

The proposed bill passed all stages of the Oireachtas today.

Image: Shutterstock/gregflat

Updated 4.10pm

SENATORS HAVE APPROVED legislation to set up supervised injecting centres – the latest in a polarising debate on how addiction should be handled in Ireland.

Today, the Seanad passed the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities) Bill 2017 after it received Dáil approval in March.

The bill will permit the preparation or possession of controlled substances in supervised premises and exempt certain users from the possession of controlled drugs under certain conditions.

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

It’s been argued that supervised injection centres will also help alleviate the problems associated with injecting on the street, including drug-related litter.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the former drugs minister, welcomed the news, saying he was “so proud” of everyone who helped make it possible.

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Tony Duffin, CEO of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, also welcomed today’s development.

Speaking outside the Oireachtas, he said: “This is a great day for drug policy in Ireland. Supervised injecting facilities are a very positive step – they will save both lives and money.

Ana Liffey has been working for the implementation of these services for a number of years, and it is terrific to see that work pay off. On behalf of all our staff and clients, I’d like to thank the current minister, Catherine Byrne and her predecessor Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin for bringing this issue forward.

“I’d also like to acknowledge the support of the barristers who gave their time pro-bono to work with us through the Voluntary Assistance Scheme of the Bar of Ireland.

“More broadly, I’d like to thank the members of both Houses for their engagement with this issue. There has been cross-party support for this initiative, which needs to be acknowledged and commended.”

90 centres worldwide

There are over 90 injection centres in operation across the world, providing frontline care to people who inject drugs, and giving them a suitable space to do so away from the street, while also connecting them with treatment services.

Given the recent reports of fentanyl, an opioid hundreds of times more potent than heroin, being present in Northern Ireland, Duffin said the establishment of the pilot centre cannot come quickly enough:

“The reports out of Northern Ireland are worrying – we’ve seen the devastation fentanyl and related drugs have caused in other jurisdictions. They present a huge overdose risk even to people who have high tolerances for opiate drugs.

There has never been an overdose death in a supervised injecting centre, so it’s important to get the centre open as soon as possible. We look forward to working with local stakeholders to do all we can to ensure that that the pilot centre is a success.

Drug consumption rooms have been operating in Europe for 30 years, with the first drug consumption room opening in Switzerland in 1986.

In October 2016 the first supervised injecting facility in France was opened in a suburb of Paris. Lisbon and Glasgow are currently working towards opening similar facilities.

Business concerns 

However, there have been concerns from some businesses.

The Temple Bar Company, which represents businesses and cultural centres, has previously voiced its concern about the motion, saying it would effectively decriminalise drugs in certain areas of the city.

Martin Harte, CEO of the Temple Bar Company, said: “We have a serious drug problem in Dublin city with more than 20,000 heroin addicts. Public injecting is a problem as is [public] defecation and urination – which is linked with drug addiction.”

No decision has been taken on the specific location of any such facility. The bill must be signed by the president before becoming law.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

Read: ‘A place to rest, a place to chat – a safe harbour’: Injecting centres get Cabinet approval

FactCheck: Do supervised injection centres reduce drug-related deaths?

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