Addicts will be able to inject under medical supervision at Dublin centre
Use of illegal drugs obtained elsewhere inside the facility will not be prosecuted
Tony Geoghegan of Merchants Quay Ireland said the supervised injecting facility will save lives. File photograph: Julien Behal/PA
Injecting drug addicts will be able to do so under medical supervision when the first facility for them opens in Dublin city centre by the end of this year.
The Health Service Executive announced on Friday that Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI), the voluntary organisation that helps people with addiction and accommodation issues, was the preferred bidder to operate the country’s first medically supervised injecting facility.
The service will operate initially as a pilot project, that the HSE and Merchant’s Quay hope to have running by the end of this year, subject to complying with all regulatory requirements, including planning if necessary.
Based on a survey of users of the needle exchange facility already provided by MQI,it is envisaged that 50 to 60 people a day could use the injection facility.
Addicts will be using illegal drugs they have obtained elsewhere. However, under the provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Act, possession of such drugs for consumption inside the facility will not be prosecuted.
The sale and/or supply of illegal drugs will remain illegal inside and outside the facility.
According to the HSE, the facility will not increase drug use in the area.
“The evidence from other countries shows that Supervised Injection Facilities do not increase drug use, drug dealing or crime in the areas in which they are located,” it says. “This is largely because they are located in areas where injecting is already occurring in public spaces.”
According to the HSE, a supervised injecting facility is “a clean, safe, healthcare environment where people can inject drugs, obtained elsewhere, under the supervision of trained health professionals”.
“They offer a compassionate, person-centered service which reduces the harms associated with injecting drug use and can help people access appropriate services,” the HSE says on its website.
Addicts using the facility, which typically involves a reception area together with an injecting room and a recovery room, will be given sterile injecting equipment. Counselling services will be there before and after injecting; emergency response in the event of overdose; and primary medical care.
One death a day from drug overdose
By having a medically supervised facility, it is hoped to see a reduction in drug-related overdose deaths, the spread of disease through needle sharing, reduce the amount of spent needles in public places and create a route through which addicts become connected to the health service.
Tony Geoghegan, spokesman for MQI, said he wanted to work with the HSE, gardaí, Dublin City Council and the local community to ensure the pilot project was a success.
“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,” he said.
“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 shows that as a society we are putting some of Ireland’s most vulnerable people first and providing a much needed service.”
“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,” she said. “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, HSE Addiction Services said, the selection of MQI followed “a robust procurement process” and 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”.
The plan is for MQI to run the pilot facility for 18 months under a licence granted under the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injection Facilities) Act 2017. MQI will be required to employ a community liaison worker “to engage local businesses, communities and residents in a meaningful manner”.