National addiction service calls for decriminalisation of drugs

The director of the Ana Liffey Project says Ireland's policy of drug prohibition is only harming people further

The director of a national drug addiction service has called for the decriminalisation of drug use in Ireland.

Ireland’s first supervised injection facilities are expected to open before the end of the year - with the government due to publish the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities) Bill by mid-January.

The legislation is expected to create a legal framework for the facilities to operate within the state.

Speaking to the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk this morning, Tony Duffin, director of the Ana Liffey project in Dublin said that despite “sterling work” by the gardaí, problems with drug addiction in Ireland have been getting steadily worse.

“The numbers have increased over the decades,” he said. “There is a lot of good work being done and it is not all doom and gloom, but we are fighting an uphill struggle. What you have is drugs that are cheaper than ever before and more widely available.”

Mr Duffin said the Ana Liffey project would be “very much advocating” for a health-based rather than criminal justice approach to drug use.

“We don’t have a liberalised drug policy in Ireland. We have prohibition and prohibition has only harmed people further really,” he said.

“Decriminalisation is when you decriminalise a small amount of drugs for personal use and if people are caught with those drugs - it is not that there is no intervention or sanction [...] it is just not a criminal justice one, it is a health one.”

In late 2015, after examining the effects of the Portuguese policy of decriminalisation, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality recommended that possession of a “small amount of illegal drugs for personal use” should be dealt with “by way of a civil/administrative response” rather than through the criminal justice system.

“They looked at the Portuguese model and they said we need to keep talking about this and we need to keep moving towards that,” said Mr Duffin.

Welcoming plans to introduce supervised injecting facilities in Ireland he said drug policy should focus on offering proper supports to take users off the streets and offer “somewhere safe for them to go.”

“Criminal activities need to be addressed but having said that in the meantime people are using drugs, they are injecting in our streets,” he said.

“If you take it from a health based approach - which I am doing - what I am seeing is that people don’t die of overdoses in those places; they do get through to treatment and rehabilitation faster.

“If you get people through to treatment and rehabilitation they are not committing crimes for those drugs and you are going to see a reduction in that type of behaviour.”

A government spokesperson said the Department of Health is currently leading out on the development of a new National Drugs Strategy with a “national steering committee” in place to bring forward this work in 2017.