Dublin's heroin problem
The detritus, human and otherwise, of open drug injecting is visible across Dublin city centre on any morning. Tony Duffin, director of the Ana Liffey drugs project on Middle Abbey Street, points out the small bright green “wraps” of citric acid, small plastic, empty, bottles of saline water, syringes and burnt tin-foil, within a two-minute walk of his centre.
Citric acid and saline water are used to break down heroin while it’s heated on foil, to make it injectable.
Around the corner, on the side street The Lotts, are empty syringes, citric wraps and empty methadone bottles in doorways and down shores. There are also empty blister packs, many of them with the brand-name Lyrica. “Lyrica is becoming very common. It’s the brand for the drug Pregabalin. We think it’s coming from China,” explains Duffin. It is an anti-epileptic drug which slows brain impulses.
“There’s also the benzodiazepines. And mephadrone - an amphetamine sold as “Ice”. Users will crush them down, get them into liquid and inject them.
“While heroin users inject about four times a day people using these drugs might inject every two hours, making them much more vulnerable to the risks associated with IV drug use - blood borne viruses and abscesses would be the main ones.
“We have two users who come into Ana Liffey to have abscesses on their legs dressed. The flesh on their legs have become necrotic. When they walk maggots fall from their legs.”
Off Chancery Street behind the Four Courts, is St Michan’s Street. Here are citric wraps, needles, empty saline water bottles and human excrement. “Drug users out in the open like this, many are homeless. They don’t have anywhere to go to the toilet. All human dignity is stripped, living like this,” says Duffin. “This is Dublin, 2016”.
Written on a wall is a man’s name. Beneath it: “Rest in peace. Always in my thoughts. Missing you more every day.”
“It’s more than likely he died here, of an overdose,” says Duffin. “We have an average of one death by overdose a day in Ireland. Every one has a mother, a father, possibly children of their own. Each death has a devastating impact on a wide circle of people .” In contrast, he says: “No-one has died in a supervised injecting room.”
Duffin is among many calling for supervised injecting rooms, “as soon as possible”. First mooted by acting Minister of State for the Drugs, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin last year, there is concern the delay in forming a Government may delay the plan.
“As well as minimising the harm drug users do to themselves, the injecting rooms take the injecting in off the streets. This enables professionals to engage with the drug users.”
There are about 3,000 injecting drug users in Dublin with about 400 openly injecting in the city each month. “They don’t want to inject in the open, would prefer to be indoors, but they don’t have that option.”
“Problem spots” for drug littering identified by Dublin City Council, include around Dublin Castle, off Grafton Street, Temple Bar and around Hawkins House on the southside, as well as Abbey Street and Amiens Street on the northside.
Addiction and injecting will not be “policed away”, argues Duffin. “The international evidence shows injection rooms minimise the harm to addicts and communities. We need them urgently in Dublin and other cities. We need to get on with this.”
The Department of Health said last night it was envisaged one injecting room would be established on a pilot basis, evaluated and licenses for a “few” in “carefully selected locations” issued thereafter.