There was a sharp division in the Seanad when Minister for Health Simon Harris introduced legislation to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act for prescription medicines.
The new legislation will make “unauthorised possession” of prescription medicines for on-street trading a criminal offence. It will also include certain designer drugs such as “clockwork orange” on the list of scheduled substances.
Mr Harris said legislation was part of the Government’s approach to dealing with the serious crime situation in the north inner city of Dublin.
The regulation of prescription drugs governed legitimate trade rather than as a criminal code. “It is clear there are those who are exploiting this for their own criminal gains,” he said.
Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Labour supported the legislation to committee stage but Independent Senators Lynn Ruane and Collette Kelleher strongly opposed the legislation.
Fianna Fáil Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee said Summerhill in the north inner city had been described as “the sleepy mile” because of the prevalence of zopiclone, a psychoactive drug, often used in the treatment of insomnia. It was linked to 51 deaths due to poisoning in the north inner city in 2013.
She said children walking to school were stepping over empty blister packs and witnessing people under their influence.
But Ms Ruane said comments about people “walking across empty blister packs” were a red herring. “We walk across empty cans and bottles every day.”
She said she was angry at what she called “a very short-sighted measure”.
Ms Ruane, who works with addicts, described the legislation as “very much an attack on the addict” and it would do nothing to dismantle the drug trade at the top level. “It’s not ever going to be the person who is ever going to bring the drugs trade down” who would be charged.
She said the court and prison system would be blocked by these cases, and she described the move as a “reaction to make it look like we’re doing something”.
She said that when a drug was banned another came in.
Sinn Féin Senator Máire Devine said “we have many reservations and severe misgivings about the amendment”, which was taken in isolation rather than as part of a suite of amendments.
She said the Bill would fail in its aim without further investment but they would support it to committee stage.
She said parents saw their children being used as runners for the drugs barons. They were trying to shield their children but this was often impossible.
Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said his party would support the Bill’s move to committee stage although he said the legislation was in effect “criminalising marginalisation”.