There was “wide consensus” at a major meeting on the national drug misuse problem that drugs across the board should be decriminalised, Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said.
Mr Ó Ríordáin hosted a “think tank” on the drug problem at the Mansion House in Dublin on Wednesday, facilitated by Lord Mayor Críona Ní Dhálaigh.
Representatives of local and regional drug and alcohol taskforces, service users, representatives of the community and voluntary sectors and the HSE attended the event.
The Minister said the aim was to get the views of those who are working on the frontline on ongoing developments in relation to the State’s drug problem.
He told The Irish Times there had been "wide consensus within the room for decriminalisation". But there were also "some question marks and some discussion points as to how to get wider society on board with the idea".
“People in the sector may be convinced but the terminology and the language is going to be important.”
‘Across the board’
He indicated when he was appointed to the role earlier this year that he would examine the possibility of decriminalising cannabis. But Mr Ó Ríordáin said the view on decriminalisation at the meeting referred to drugs “across the board” and not just drugs of a particular type.
“It can’t happen by itself. There has to be a continuum of care. There has to be an understanding around supports and resources and counselling and all those different things,” he said. Decriminalisation was “not going to make a difference in and of itself”.
There was also discussion on the possibility of introducing injecting rooms – so-called “consumption rooms” for intravenous heroin users, Mr Ó Ríordáin said.
He said the consensus was that this was something that should be considered, but that there were a lot of things that needed to be discussed, including how and where to implement the measure and the cost implications.
The main issue was to get rid of the legislative blockages, he said.
The conversation had focused on what the service user and addict needed and on “taking away the stigma and the blame culture”.
In relation to consumption rooms, he said this would “probably involve a licence being given for one room or centre to be established in the short term”, along the lines of what had been done in Sydney.
He said the dynamic of such a centre had to be very carefully managed, with consideration for its location, the history of drug use in that area, the type of heroin that may be used, the clientele and the complex needs that they had.
There were some “very vulnerable people” involved and every city had its own dynamic, Mr Ó Riordain said.
Mr Ó Ríordáin said he needed Cabinet approval in relation to the legislative blockages and that he intended to bring the matter forward after the summer.
The third issue in focus at the meeting was the issue of polydrug use, the use of two or more drugs in combination.
Mr Ó Ríordáin said he was preparing a paper for Cabinet in the autumn to give a “snapshot in time” of the drug misuse problem in Ireland.
He wanted it to set out the nature of polydrug use and how prevalent it was, the type of substances that people were taking and details of how lucrative it was to sell prescribed drugs, he said.
“I was told 10 years ago we were basically dealing with 20 substances, now we are dealing with 420.”