Johann Hari: Heroin injection centres could save State money

Bestselling author says attitude shift needed in Ireland to better treat drug addiction

 

A scheme of heroin injection centres in Ireland similar to ones he visited in Switzerland could save the country a fortune, an author has said.

Johann Hari spent three years travelling across nine countries appraising the international “war on drugs” for what became a bestselling book, Chasing the Scream.

He believes an attitude shift is needed in countries like Ireland if the situation is going to get any better.

“What we have now is anarchy. We have unknown criminals selling unknown chemicals to unknown users; all in public places,” said Mr Hari, who is speaking at the International Literature Festival Dublin on Monday.

‘Restoring order’

“This process of changing the drug laws is a process of restoring order to that anarchy. That’s how they won the argument in Switzerland, which is a really conservative country,” he said of a state that created one of the world’s first medically supervised heroin injection programmes in 1994.

He is echoing calls by bodies such as the Ana Liffey Drug Project to set up State-approved injection centres in Ireland, facilities which in other countries have contributed to reductions in overdose deaths and disease transmissions, he said.

“These injection rooms are built up by the media to be such a big thing. You go in, and it actually looks like a branch of Toni and Guy. There’s a small booth, they’re given a needle, they use the heroin and they go out.

Contaminants

“A lot of the things we associate with heroin addiction such as terrible abscesses and wounds never happen when you have legal heroin, because they are not the result of heroin itself - they’re the result of contaminants put into the drugs by drug dealers.

“Injecting rooms also help to stop HIV transmission. The cost of a single person getting HIV is enormous because you have to treat them over their whole lifetime.

“Injecting rooms save you a fortune because they save money down the line,” he told The Irish Times.

Ana Liffey is currently consulting with members of the Bar Council of Ireland on draft legislation which would allow such centres to maintain and administer a legal stock of heroin.

Plagiarism controversy

Mr Hari was previously employed as a columnist with the Independent newspaper in London, but endured an ignominious exit from the publication in 2012 after he was caught plagiarising the work of other journalists.

He has since sought to reinvent himself as an author, and his debut book Chasing the Scream went to fifth place in the New York Times bestseller list in the crime and punishment section for March.