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Dublin: 15 °C Saturday 4 July, 2020
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"There are people dying injecting themselves. I had to get the injection that brings you back to life"

At the Merchants Quay Night Café, staff and clients talk about injection centres

Needles and drug paraphernalia litter the streets of Dublin
Needles and drug paraphernalia litter the streets of Dublin
Image: Photocall Irealnd

IN A SMALL room in the back of the Merchants Quay Ireland centre Paul* (34) pulls up his jeans to show his scarred legs.

Both his calves are swollen with infected abscesses in the spots he regularly injects himself. His arms are infected as well with track marks running up and down.

“You get that from injecting snowblow,” he says.

There are people dying everyday injecting themselves. We should get rooms with a doctor where people can go with a bag of gear and inject themselves instead of being on the street.”

Wayne Clifford (30), a harm reduction worker with Merchants Quay Ireland, explains that Paul’s afflictions come from a number of sources, among them unsafe injecting, repeated injecting over years and using dirty needles. He is a chronic drug user and uses every day, in squats or on the streets of Dublin.

Both men are on the frontline of the drugs problem in Dublin, and both firmly believe that medically supervised injection centres are a good idea.

DSC_0408 The entrance to Merchant's Quay Ireland in Dublin City Centre Source: Cormac Fitzgerald

Injection centres

This week, Drugs Minister Aodhán Ó Riordáin gave a speech in London where he backed the de-criminalisation of possessing small amounts of drugs. Later on in the week, he spoke on radio about introducing medically supervised injection centres in Dublin where drug users could go to inject themselves.

“Make no mistake, these people will be injecting themselves anyway,” said the Minister.

“This facility just serves the purpose of having them do it in a medically-supervised facility.”

The centres would be places where IV drug users could go and inject themselves with their own drugs in a safe, clean place away from the public eye under the supervision of a medical professional. It is estimated that there are already around 70 of these centres in cities around the world.

Aodhán Drugs Minister Aodhán O RÍordáin Source: Sam Boal/Rolling News

The move would represent a radical policy shift for the Irish government, which has historically treated all drug users as criminals, and signals a move away from dealing with drug use as a criminal justice issue, and towards treating it as a medical issue.

For the workers and addicts on the ground, the evidence speaks for itself:

“We’re absolutely in favour of [the centre] and have been for some time,” says Mark Kennedy, the Head of Day Services at Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI),  the drug outreach and support service which helps about 400 people per day.

“They are absolutely evidence-based. People may have a fear that this is going to lead to a massive increase in drugs use, but that’s not the case.

The people who use these centres are people who are injecting on the streets, often homeless people with no other options.”

For Mark and the rest of the staff at MQI, the benefits of the supervised centres are numerous:

  • Drug users are off the streets, injecting somewhere away from the public eye where they can do less harm to themselves and the environment around them;
  • Outreach workers and professionals will be able to make contact with the most chronic drug users, slowly build up relationships and recommend care plans;
  • There will be less used syringes and other waste left on the streets of Dublin;
  • Less sharing of needles, overdoses and improper injecting.

Those against the centres say that their introduction will increase drug use in the city, will normalise drug use and will lead to an increase in anti-social behaviour in the areas where the centres are places.

But for the people working and using on the ground, the centres can only help the growing drug problem that’s seen every day on the streets of Dublin.

download needles Scattered syringes on a street in Dublin Source: Daragh Brophy

“There seems to be much more issues on the street now,” says Mark.

Public injecting seems to be causing big, big, problems for people, and we have sympathy with businesses, churches, schools along with our clients… Nobody wants to have a situation where people are injecting in public.”

Serious drug users

At 11 o’clock on Wednesday night, the Night Café of Merchants Quay begins to fill up with people. The café formally opened last year to combat the growing number of rough sleepers on the streets of Dublin.

Almost every night it is full with around 50 people, who drink tea and talk until about 2am and then go to sleep on mats laid out in one of the rooms.

DSC_0419 Mats laid out at Merchants Quay for people to sleep on Source: Cormac Fitzgerald

Wayne Clifford, who is supervising the café for the night, estimates that about a quarter of people who stay there each night are serious drug users. Among them is Paul, who is in need of medical attention for the damage done to his body.

Another man, Conor*, who regularly uses heroin, says that the centres would help prevent overdoses and provide a safe place for users.

“Last week, I had to get the injection that brings you back to life,” says Conor.

I’d taken too much gear in a squat, had to crawl to the door and get that drug that helps save you (Naloxone)… only for that I’d be gone.

“[The centres] would be good for people. They’d help.”

As more people come into the café at around 12am, Wayne says that while the centres wouldn’t solve Dublin’s drug problem, they would be a step in the right direction towards compassion and understanding.

“It’s a medical procedure to inject,” says Wayne.

“Sometimes people forget that. If everything is sterile and done properly then it’s only going to be positive for the general using community, and then for everyone else as well.”

DSC_0434 Safe injectintg guidelines for users Source: Cormac Fitzgerald

With an election next year and Minister Ó Ríordáin’s term as Drugs Minister coming to an end, it remains to be seen if medically supervised injection centres will become a reality in Dublin.

But for the staff and clients at Merchants Quay, they would be a very positive step in the lives of the users and the life of the city.

*Some names have been changed to protect the identity of people

Anyone looking for more information on Merchant’s Quay Ireland can visit their website at www.mqi.ie

Read: Here’s what the drugs minister means by ‘Supervised Injection Centres’

Read: Dozens upon dozens of needles 

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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