Society cares more about cattle than it does heroin users, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has claimed.
Earlier this month, at least 54 people overdosed on heroin and the HSE warned users against buying new batches of the drug.
Despite this, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, who previously served as Minister for Drugs, said he did not get “any real sense” that society cared.
“I think if 54 middle class students had been struck with a mystery overdose on pills, I think we would have had more of a move towards doing something about it,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.
“In fact, I think if 54 cattle had been struck down with a mystery illness, I think there would have been a move from Government to care more.
“It just feels, whenever we’re dealing with those who are heroin users that the sense is that it’s their fault; we don’t like the way that they speak, the way that they talk, the way that they look, we don’t like the way that they dress.”
'No media interest'
Deputy Ó Ríordáin said he witnessed this as a Minister when the deaths of heroin users were ignored by the media and wider Irish society.
“When I was Minister for Drugs, there was a very high-profile case of a student who overdosed on a pill, which was a very tragic case and I was swamped with contact from media outlets about this young person, about her future, about her lost life and her upset friends and family,” he said.
“It was a very distressing time; simultaneously, two heroin users were dragged out of the toilets in Connolly Station dead - but there was no media interest.
“There was no societal interest.”
Overall, Deputy Ó Ríordáin said society takes a “dim view” towards heroin users and people are allowed to denigrate them as “junkies” without consequence.
“That word is actually quite loaded, it’s quite offensive to those who have drug users in their families,” he said.
“I can use that word on your show or I could use that word on any show and everybody calls up on it.
“But there are any amount of offensive terminology that can be used in terms of the LGBT community or Travellers or migrants or black Irish that you could never use on the radio because your political career would be ended.
“But you can use the word junkie all the time, as often as you like in print or in broadcast.”
Anyone who has a problem with drugs or alcohol can contact the HSE’s Drug and Alcohol Helpline on 1800 459 459 between 9.30am and 5.30pm Monday to Friday.
In a statement to Newstalk, the Department for Health said the response of officials had been "swift" and "greatly minimised the harms from the use of adulterated heroin".
Main image: Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. Photo: Rollingnews.ie