Time to relax the drug laws?


Sir, – Sean Dunne’s alarmist article concerning the decriminalisation of drugs in small quantities misses some points (“Ireland’s youth will suffer from looser drug laws”, Opinion & Analysis, July 19th).

In shifting focus from the consumer to the supplier, Garda resources can focus on disrupting the supply chain of narcotics and its ultimate beneficiaries, the cartels.

Second, it creates a society that can begin to accept people with chronic drug addiction as patients with a treatable illness. Such a society would treat these human beings with compassion and respect. The absence of humanity within the drug trade goes far beyond a bad day at a music festival.

Finally, no policy will save any generation from a shift in values. It is up to the individual to make good decisions, not a government. – Yours, etc,



Co Meath.

Sir, – Sean Dunne describes in some detail examples of excessive drug and alcohol use at music festivals where his Generation Y contemporaries are vomiting over gardaí and engaging in exhibitionist, al fresco sex. He argues that Government support for the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use – a recognised and successful public health drug policy for reducing the prevalence of, and the harm associated with, drug use among young people – would normalise and encourage dangerous and high levels of recreational drug use among teenagers and young adults.

There are flaws in his argument.

First, most of the behaviour that he finds so upsetting is related to excess alcohol use, a drug which is legal, and its availability will not be affected by proposed decriminalisation. The drugs (MDMA, amphetamine, ketamine) highlighted by your columnist are illegal but their illicit status does not impact on their availability or use at these festivals. Many of these drugs are not used in conjunction with alcohol and are much safer than either alcohol or tobacco. Drug-related fatalities are rare, but when they occur are tragic and often preventable. Fatalities are mainly due to excessive use, high purity or contamination, or use in lethal combinations with other drugs and alcohol.

Adopting a harm-reduction approach to their use has the potential to significantly reduce drug overdose rates.

Decriminalisation would allow for open and safe disclosure among users and for the implementation of a more realistic and effective harm-reduction approach to their use.

As described above, decriminalisation will have some positive impact on Sean Dunne’s festival-going peers, but this is minor relative to its potential impact on more marginalised and socially excluded drug users.

Recreational drug use by its nature is for fun but there are thousands of people in Ireland addicted to illicit drugs, often using many times a day to prevent withdrawals.

The vast majority come from social deprivation and poverty. Ongoing criminalisation of their addiction further marginalises this group.

They are far more likely to be convicted for drug possession and be imprisoned for such offences than your columnist’s middle-class peers.

Working in our prison system for over two decades, I have seen first-hand the impact that ongoing criminalisation of drug users has on society.

This ineffective drug policy continues to fuel an illicit economy, with its associated drug-related crime and violence, and has no impact on reducing drug use or the harms associated with it.

It is time to try a different approach and the present government, including the Minister for Health Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, should be applauded for considering an evidence-based drug policy, rather than a blinkered and populist approach. – Yours, etc,


Assistant Director

of Substance Misuse,

Irish College

of General Practitioners,

Dartmouth Square,

Ranelagh, Dublin 6.