Syringes found in a Dublin laneway

Stigma around drug use preventing people from coming forward to access key supports

Tony Duffin, the CEO of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, said that there was a distinction between ‘drug use’ and ‘problematic drug use’

THE STIGMA SURROUNDING drug use is preventing people from coming forward to access treatment and supports, the head of a drug outreach charity has said.

Tony Duffin, the CEO of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, said that stigma against drug users is “very serious” and that there needs to be a health-led approach to responding to drug use, rather than a criminal approach.

Speaking to The Journal at a conference celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, Duffin said that Ireland needs to change its laws around drugs to help address this stigma.

“Stigma is a huge issue. It does prevent people from coming forward to access treatment and rehabilitation and other supports.

“Therefore, you know, stigma is very, very serious.”

Duffin said that countries who have implemented drug decriminalisation policies, like Portugal, there has been a reduction in stigma surrounding drug use.

“In countries like Portugal, where they implemented the model of decriminalisation, which is essentially a very good diversion scheme, they have seen stigma towards people who use drugs disappear.

“Now, it took time. It took about 10 years, 15 years of treating it as a health issue before people realise and start to say, ‘they’re not criminals, they’re people who need a bit of help’.”

Duffin added that he believes there is an important distinction between “drug use” and “problematic drug use”, but added that it all needed to be treated through the use of health referrals.

Under a Government approach first announced in 2019 but has not yet been implemented, the first time a person is found in possession of drugs for personal use, they will be referred to the HSE for a health screening and intervention.

A second case will see them issued with an adult caution, while any further cases will be dealt through the courts.

However, Duffin believes that all cases of possession for personal use should be dealt through the health system rather than through the criminal justice system.

He added that he hoped to see further progress on changes to Irish drug policy over the next year.

Duffin’s comments come as the Ana Liffey Drug Project celebrated its 40th year in operation today, with a conference examining issues around decriminalisation and advocacy this afternoon.

Opening the conference today, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said that he was aware the impact that problematic drug use has on individuals, families and communities.

“Throughout its history, Ana Liffey has been creative and innovative in how it helps and supports all those impacted,” Donohoe said.

“I am delighted to be here today to mark the 40th Anniversary of Ana Liffey – a home grown response to Ireland’s drug problem and an organisation that has made a real positive difference to the lives of so many people in the North Inner City and elsewhere.”

It comes weeks after People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny introduced legislation into the Dáil that would decriminalise the possession of cannabis for personal use.

Kenny has described his bill as “moderate” and that he hoped it would help start a national conversation around how Ireland treats the possession of cannabis for personal use.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin previously said that he preferred a “healthcare approach” to drugs policy and said that care needed to be taken to ensure that cannabis was not glamorised.

“On a more broader level, I prefer a more healthcare approach to addiction generally and to harmful substances,” Martin said

“I think we have to be careful that we don’t glamourise cannabis either because there are real concerns within the health community, in the medical community in terms of the damage that cannabis could do to young people in particular.”

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