In a major overhaul of its drugs' strategy, Ireland looks set to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs, including cannabis, cocaine, and heroin, as well as opening rooms in the country's capital where drug addicts can inject themselves under supervision.
The minister responsible for Ireland's national drugs strategy, Aodhan O Riordain, is expected to announce the measures in a speech he's giving on Monday at the London School of Economics. The changes should then come into force early next year.
O Riordain said these changes were part of a bid to bring "compassion" into the issue and to remove "stigma," telling the Irish Times: "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. Research has shown that the use of supervised injecting centres is associated with self-reported reductions in injecting risk behaviors."
The minister also told the newspaper there was now a "strong consensus that drugs across the board should be decriminalized" — something which would be a matter for the next government, due to be elected in early 2016.
"This will be a wider discussion under the next government but once people get their head around the argument, about what decriminalization actually means, that policy won't be about the drug but about the individual," he said. "Then regardless of the drug, the individual needs an intervention and society will be saying, 'the substance is illegal, but you are not a criminal for taking it'."
Tony Duffin, director of the Ana Liffey Drug Project that works with 2,500 drug addicts across Ireland, told VICE News his organization had been been lobbying for the introduction of supervised drug centers since the beginning of 2012. "We engaged with barristers who have drafted legislation on a pro bono basis and we handed that over to the minister in May," he said. "Aodhan O Riordain has picked up on that and has run with that and is working towards the introduction of legislation so hopefully this will go ahead. I've read he would see them open in Ireland in the next year and we would welcome that. The evidence is very strong and the evidence says that they save lives."
Duffin said he supported drug policies that were "effective, efficient, and based on good health economics," and that he wanted to see the addicts he works with "move towards treatment and rehabilitation instead of the justice system."
"Our job is to engage with them, reduce harm, and move them towards rehabilitation and housing, whatever their addiction might be," he said. "At the moment we're focused on the legislative change and once that's in place we'll know what the framework is. We would be willing to run the [supervised injecting] centers… going forward."
He added: "I've seen firsthand how the services have helped people. Nobody has ever died of an overdose in a drug consumption room across the globe in the 90 centers that are currently running."
Duffin said he wasn't sure whether there would be resistance from the wider population but that the majority of members of family support groups for addicts were firmly in favor of the changes. "The National Family Support network recently had a conference and of the 200 delegates that voted, over 80 percent were in favor of decriminalization," he said. "Then there's a group called Citywide, another community based support group. They are all supportive as we are of Aodhan O Riordain's approaches. So far as we've seen the door is open to decriminalization."
Supervised injecting facilities have existed in other several other countries for several decades, the majority in European countries including the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Spain, and Germany.
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