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It's planned the first supervised injecting facility will open in 2017. So how did we get here?

People have reasonable fears about such centres – but those fears can be addressed, writes the Ana Liffey Drug Project’s Tony Duffin.

Tony Duffin CEO of the Ana Liffey Drug Project

THE MISUSE OF Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities) Bill 2016 is expected to be published in mid-January 2017.

This piece of legislation will create a legal framework within which Supervised Injecting Facilities (SIFs) can operate in the state.

It’s a progressive, evidence based drug policy which will have a real impact on people’s lives and is to be welcomed.

Unfortunately, there are many people in Dublin who have complex and multiple needs and who inject drugs in public.  This bill tells people who inject drugs we will not abandon them to the chaos, disease and death that awaits them at the dark end of the streets, alleyways and public spaces.

This is a matter of life and death; a matter of keeping people safe; a matter of giving them back their dignity so that they have a chance to live longer healthier lives.

It is anticipated that the first pilot supervised injecting facility will open in Dublin in late 2017.

So how did we get to this point?

needle3 A discarded syringe in Dublin. Source: Photocall Ireland

Uncharted territory 

On Friday 20th January 2012, Ana Liffey Drug Project launched its Strategic Plan 2012 – 2014.  One of the strategic goals of the Ana Liffey was the development of a Supervised Injecting Facility for injecting drug users in Dublin.

When trying to achieve something that is currently not allowed under the law – there is no clear path. We were in unchartered territory.

We knew that if we were to clear the many hurdles that lay ahead of us we couldn’t do it alone, and this has proven to be the case.

Over the past five years, we have engaged with a wide variety of stakeholders across a range of sectors to discuss supervised injecting facilities. To get to the stage we are now at in Ireland with this project, it has taken the expertise and hard work of many people and for that we are truly thankful.

However, when the upcoming legislation is enacted, it will require the support of more people from many walks of life to ensure the service is properly implemented.

We are fortunate that the service will happen – monies have been specifically allocated for it in the budget and it is in the HSE’s work plan for 2017.

We are also fortunate that it has cross party support – our elected representatives recognise the importance of the project and it will not be used for political showboating or playing party politics.

pa1 Cubicles in the Sydney supervised injecting centre. Source: Rick Rycroft

‘Not in my back yard’

However, once the Bill is passed and signed into law, a different type of support will be needed.

For example, NIMBYISM will become an issue – and this is perfectly understandable. Supervised injecting centres are counterintuitive and people have reasonable fears in relation to implementation.

Fortunately, at this point, there has been a lot of research into injecting centres and the effect they have on an area so these fears can be addressed.

For example, often people will fear that SIFs will act as a ‘honeypot’, attracting users to an area (they do not), or that the presence of such a facility will lead to increased drug related crime in an area (it does not).

The reality is that if you live or work in an area in which a supervised injecting centre might be established, you already have serious issues with public drug use. You have seen people injecting in public; you have seen injecting equipment discarded down lanes; and you have legitimate fears in relation to these issues. SIFs will help.

They will reduce the incidence of public injecting; they will reduce the amount of drug paraphernalia in your area. They will also result in better health outcomes for people who use drugs.

Rehabilitation is critical

People will always make noise around why injecting facilities should not be implemented – they will say ‘not that service’, ‘not here’, ‘not over there’ ‘not now’, and so on.

However, there is overwhelming supporting evidence from across the globe that SIFs are a good policy approach, which can improve things for Dublin.

There will be populistic calls for being ‘tough on drugs’ – despite decades of evidence that such approaches are both expensive and ineffective.

There will be questions as to why public money should be spent on such centres – the reality is that they are cost effective and will represent a saving to the taxpayer.

The things that supervised injecting centres aim to address already cost money. It costs money to send ambulances to lanes where people have overdosed; it costs money to provide acute hospital care to people as a result of their drug use; it costs money to address the health sequelae of overdose; it costs money to remove drug litter from lanes.

There will be calls to spend money elsewhere in the system – on treatment, on rehabilitation, on aftercare. I agree. Injecting facilities are not a cure-all; they are one vital cog in a comprehensive and effective drug policy. To frame this as a policy choice between SIFs and other things is disingenuous and inaccurate. We need both.

However, and most importantly, regardless of the money, or the location or the policy debates, the simple fact is that supervised injecting facilities reduce harm to drug users and provide opportunities for change and support. And this is extremely important.

Rehabilitation is critical, but you can’t rehabilitate someone who is dead.

Tony Duffin is Director of the Ana Liffey Drug Project. Visit www.aldp.ie to find out more about the work of Ana Liffey. Follow the Ana Liffey on Facebook and Twitter.

Read: ‘It’s not about NIMBY-ism, we just want a debate on injection centres’ >

Read: ‘When there is somewhere safe for people to go and inject they will use it – I will use it’ >

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About the author:

Tony Duffin  / CEO of the Ana Liffey Drug Project

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