Proposals to allow for drug injection centres due this month

Drug addiction not choice, but healthcare issue, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin tells conference

Proposals to change drugs legislation to allow for medically supervised drug injection centres will be brought before Cabinet this month, a conference on drugs in Dublin has heard.

Minister of State for the national drugs strategy, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin told the Citywide conference on communities and drugs at Croke Park that he and Minister for Health Leo Varadkar would bring forward the proposals to amend the Misuse of Drugs Acts.

He told said addiction was not a choice, it was a healthcare issue. Yet there was still a “shame” clinging to the entire debate.

We have to break that shame and stigma attached to addiction and to those who were making a “heroic” recovery and effort to “re-brick” their lives, he said.


Mr Ó Riordáin said achieving better outcomes for those in treatment was vital if we were to improve their quality of life.

“Every recovering drug user should have a care plan, which provides a definite framework for addressing their needs. This means all the agencies working together with a common vision on recovery,” he said.

The  new drugs strategy would  provide an opportunity for Government departments and agencies, the community and voluntary sector and elected representatives to "re-commit to the partnership approach which has been the cornerstone of our drugs policy up to now".
The Minister announced the appointment of  John Carr as the independent chairman of the steering group which will oversee the development of the new strategy.

Addressing the conference, President Michael D Higgins said so many problems, including drug addiction and the effects of climate change, fall "most heavily and first" on those in society with the least capacity to deal with them.

Mr Higgins said there could be very few people in Ireland today whose lives had not been touched by addiction in some form or other.

“It is estimated that for every individual directly affected by addiction, at least eight other people’s lives are affected, including partners, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, colleagues and friends,” he said.

“The abuse of drugs and other substances continues to contribute to a wide range of health, social and behavioural problems across a wide spectrum of Irish society but we are, thankfully, moving towards working with those affected by drugs misuse with the respect and compassion they deserve.”

The conference, entitled Our Communities, Our World - A Drugs Policy that Works, marks the 20th anniversary of the Dublin-based organisation Citywide.

Mr Higgins noted the beginnings of Citywide were “rooted in a Dublin where drug taking had entered the lives of a second generation of young Irish people, and where a heroin epidemic was infiltrating and destroying many disadvantaged and marginalised communities”.

‘Health challenge’

“The transmission of AIDS and Hepatitis C was presenting an increasing public health challenge, while the growing availability of cocaine, ecstasy and other drugs was putting more young people at risk.”

Two decades on, the situation remained challenging. He said a report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction last year found that the rate of drug-induced deaths in Ireland in 2011 was the third highest in Europe and four times the EU rate.

It also found that, while heroin and cocaine related deaths had decreased, non-heroin opiate-related deaths involving substances such as methadone, codeine and other prescription opiates had increased.

“These are worrying facts and, behind the stark figures and statistics lie the many lives ruined, futures lost, and families ruptured by harmful drug use,” the President said.

“There are also the many sad and individual stories of those whose potential and possibilities have been diminished through their addiction to drugs; stories of mistakes and regret, of lost opportunities and vanishing hopes, of the hurts they have inflicted on others and that have been inflicted upon them.”

He said a main theme of his presidency had been to build “an inclusive Republic - one in which all citizens are treated with equal dignity and respect and are empowered to participate in our democracy”.

“As a society we have made progress in realising equality for many groups - for example through the marriage equality referendum earlier this year; but discrimination, marginalisation, and stigmatisation persist. If we are to achieve the goal of a true Republic and give expression to the vision of universal human rights, then we must seek out and embrace those of our fellow citizens who are most vulnerable and suffer the greatest exclusion,” he said.

The President said drug users and those affected by addiction were often in a position of exclusion and denial of citizenship.

He said: “They are often regarded as being outside or even below the community of rights-holders in our society. Their addiction - a medical and social condition which causes them suffering and impairment - is used as a basis to dehumanise drug users.

“That dehumanisation takes the form of stigmatisation and derogatory language; and it leads to a denial of services, a lack of voice, and even, on occasion, is used as a justification for victimisation.”