IRELAND is moving closer to decriminalising drugs including heroin, cocaine and cannabis as part of a cultural shift, the Irish Government told a policy forum in London.
Minister for Ireland’s National Drugs Strategy, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, believes the move will help to combat the country’s drug-related crime problem.
In a drug policy planning workshop held at the London School of Economics, the Minister said that drug users would be able to inject in medically supervised centres in Dublin from next year.
He said that a more compassionate approach was needed in tackling drug addiction, and a greater understanding of the difference between legalisation and decriminalisation.
“I believe that we need to be radical and change how we think and talk about drug addition,” he said on Monday.
“I am firmly of the view that there needs to be a cultural shift in how we regard substance misuse if we are to break this cycle and make a serious attempt to tackle drug and alcohol addiction.”
The Minister added that Dublin in particular had a problem with street injecting.
“These drug users are at increased risk of overdose and blood-borne disease infections, and the general public is at risk owing to unsafe disposal of syringes and other drug paraphernalia.”
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality launched a new report on drug abuse and harm reduction on Thursday.
Chaired by David Stanton TD, the report suggests that Ireland should follow the method used in Portugal, to offer counselling or healthcare assistance, rather than prosecute, people caught with small quantities of drugs.
“This report is an important step in the process to continually refine our national drugs strategy.
"Substance abuse is a constant and complex challenge and because of this complexity, we must be willing to explore new avenues in dealing with drugs policy and practice,” Mr Stanton said.
“Our Committee has spent a substantial amount of time examining the approach of the Portuguese system, which places particular emphasis on after-care and social re-integration for former users of illegal substance.
"We believe that there is great merit in more research being carried out into how a similar system might work in Ireland.”
In July the Oireachtas committee published a report on its visit to Portugal.
It found that initial fears the new approach would lead to an increase in drug use and attract drug users from other jurisdictions were unsupported.
He said that Portugal had successfully reduced serious levels of drug misuse that existed 15 years ago, largely due to the treatment of drug addiction as a health problem and not just a criminal justice issue.
Following the opening of the Dublin clinic, the Minster is hopeful that further centres will open in Cork, Galway and Limerick.
“A medically supervised injecting centre is not a “free for all” for those who wish to inject drugs; it is a clinical, controlled environment which aims to engage a hard to reach population of drug user and provide defined pathways to higher threshold treatment services such as medical and social interventions and counselling services,” he said.