A pragmatic approach to tackling drug addiction is needed


In November 2015, the government announced that after a tender process, Merchant’s Quay Ireland was to be given responsibility for piloting Ireland’s first purpose-built safer injection center for people who use drugs. intravenously. This was initially seen as a radical step in the right direction by political analysts when the then Minister of State for National Strategy on Substance Abuse, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, announced a more compassionate approach to drug addiction. However, the pilot project has since been hampered by health and safety concerns and objections from local residents, already jaded by decades of destruction in their community as a result of illicit drug-related activities.

Many who had long espoused the benefits of these facilities for both drug users and society as a whole were encouraged by the political movement on the issue, but nonetheless cautious about progress. For my part, having worked in policy development and education on drug and alcohol policy in Ireland for nearly 15 years, I was less than impressed with the proposed application of the project. .

Drug traffic

For starters, it lacked the basic ingredients proven to work in similar centers across Europe where legislation allows pharmacies near safer injection sites to dispense heroin to people using the service. , thus avoiding problems with the local police in the area. This has the added benefit of discouraging drug trafficking in and around the facilities, which was a primary concern of local residents who objected to the pilot project being located at Merchant’s Quay, an area already in plagued by high levels of illicit drug use and trafficking. in its streets.

What we need, and what we urgently need, is government policy that will take a more pragmatic approach to tackling the chronic problem of drug addiction.

Dublin City Council’s recent decision to refuse planning permission for the project, four years after it received the government’s green light, highlights one of the key issues affecting the development of effective policy on drugs and alcohol in Ireland – that the different stakeholders tend to work in silos. Not only does that mean the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, but. as we see now, time and public money can be wasted on projects that fall on the final hurdle due to what I believe results from a lack of genuine political will to tackle effectively problem of problematic drug use in Irish society.

For example, one of the main benefits of setting up safer injection sites is that they can encourage people who use drugs to eventually commit to long-term treatment programmes. However, as far as I was aware, there had been no provision for additional treatment places to accompany the pilot project at Merchant’s Quay. The fact that no legislative changes regarding possession of drugs for those using the facility have been introduced means that a ‘turn a blind eye’ approach should have been taken by the local gardaí, a veritable recipe for failure and yet another example of an Irish solution to an Irish problem, so often seen in connection with the development of drug and alcohol policy in that country.

What we need, and what we urgently need, is government policy that will take a more pragmatic approach to tackling the chronic problem of drug abuse in Ireland and a national strategy that does not just setting goals, but understanding how people actually live with addiction.


There are examples on our doorstep of how progress is possible, such as in Portugal, where the decriminalization of illicit drug use and the implementation of harm reduction strategies and education programs have also led to reduction in the use of drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis. as facilitating more effective use of resources used to address substance abuse.

While I understand that the answer is not always to look at what is happening in other jurisdictions and copy and paste those solutions into an Irish context, one has to ask why the government has not learned from what works well in these cases. I come back to my belief that there simply isn’t the political will to tackle drug addiction with any real conviction here in Ireland, despite record levels of illicit drug use across all sections of society. We are a country with a collective sense of denial on the issue. Policy makers are waking up: if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem and future generations will not thank you for it.

Derek Byrne lectures on drug and alcohol policy at Maynooth University and TUD Grangegorman


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