Former Drugs Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is expressing his views on the treatment of heroin users in Ireland, stating that society despises them and does not value their lives. He is particularly concerned about this issue following a recent surge in heroin overdoses, although no fatalities have been reported thus far. Ó Ríordáin is visibly angered and frustrated by the lack of concern shown towards these individuals, comparing it to the immediate reaction that would be generated if a similar number of livestock fell ill. He firmly believes that if any other group faced the risk of death, every possible effort would be made to prevent it. However, he highlights a distinct lack of empathy for those grappling with heroin addiction.
In addition, Ó Ríordáin emphasizes the significance of Naloxone, a medication capable of reversing the harmful effects of opioids, which was successfully used in the recent overdose cases. He argues that some of these overdoses could have been avoided if Dublin had a supervised injection facility (SIF) in place. Although legislation allowing for the establishment of SIFs was introduced in 2017, progress has been hindered by controversies and planning difficulties. Ó Ríordáin expresses frustration with the slow pace of progress, suggesting that a more proactive government could have explored alternative solutions to save lives. Unfortunately, the delays surrounding the planned SIF in Dublin have cast doubts on whether it will ever come to fruition.
Ó Ríordáin firmly believes that the lack of progress is a direct result of society's disdain for heroin users, whom many perceive as solely responsible for their addictions. He argues that if any other group faced the risk of death, everything would be done to prevent it, but this level of concern does not extend to those grappling with heroin addiction. Ó Ríordáin finds this realization disheartening, as he firmly believes that individuals from every political party and walk of life share the desire to prevent deaths caused by overdoses.Concerns are being raised about the delay in implementing legislation for an injecting facility, which was passed seven years ago. The prolonged planning process has led to questions about the number of lives lost during this time.
According to a spokesperson for Hildegarde Naughton, the Minister of State responsible for the National Drugs Strategy, efforts are being made to reduce harm caused by drug use. This includes considering the possibility of mobile injecting services. However, the immediate priority is to open the supervised injecting facility at Merchants Quay. Any introduction of mobile services will be evaluated within the overall policy and budgetary framework.
Since receiving planning permission, the Health Service Executive (HSE) and Merchants Quay Ireland have been collaborating on plans to establish the facility. The Department of Health has allocated €1.5 million to cover its annual running costs.
Dublin City accounts for over half of all drug-related deaths caused by injection overdose. The supervised injecting facility aims to mitigate the harm associated with drug use and ultimately reduce deaths and overdoses in the city. The HSE spokesperson has stated that they are working towards opening the facility in the second half of 2024, remaining committed to the health-led approach outlined in the National Drug Strategy.
In response to recent overdoses linked to nitazenes, Ó Ríordáin emphasized the importance of staying abreast of changing drug patterns. However, he underscored that the fundamental issue remains the lack of concern for lives lost to heroin use, particularly among marginalized individuals without influential connections or powerful families.
Gino Kenny, a member of People Before Profit TD, shares Ó Ríordáin's perspective, stating that those with addiction issues who are on the fringes of society often face judgment from many. He added that while there are people who do care, the establishment and others often disregard individuals in such circumstances, pushing them to the margins.
Kenny believes that many people turn to drugs due to their life circumstances or events. He contends that policymakers should focus on preventing such circumstances and treating individuals dealing with addiction with respect and dignity.
The recent surge of over 50 overdoses in a short period of time is unprecedented, according to Kenny. In addition, Europe is expected to face a heroin shortage due to the Taliban's ban on poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, which is the primary source of heroin consumed in the continent.Kenny warns that the Taliban's ban on poppy cultivation may disrupt the heroin supply chain, leading to potential dangers posed by the use of more potent synthetic opioids by criminal gangs. He expresses concern over the health risks associated with synthetic opioids, based on global experiences. The Citizens' Assembly on Drug Use has recommended adopting a non-criminal approach towards personal drug possession. However, Kenny is skeptical about whether the government will take these recommendations into consideration. He believes that if the government fails to act upon the recommendations, it would undermine the credibility of the Citizens' Assembly. Kenny interprets these recommendations as a plea for decriminalization, which he considers to be the bare minimum required. The People Before Profit (PBP) party's Bill to decriminalize cannabis for personal use is currently progressing through the Dáil. Sharing Kenny's perspective, Ó Ríordáin, from the Labour Party, advocates for a health-oriented approach to drug users rather than a punitive one. Ó Ríordáin argues that the criminal charging of individuals for personal drug possession is a wasteful allocation of resources. He suggests that policymakers would prefer to prioritize medical interventions for their own family members who use drugs.