Cabinet approves plans for drug addicts to use injection centres
Drug users will be legally permitted to inject hard drugs in designated centres under plans agreed by the Cabinet.
The new laws will see the establishment of so-called 'supervised injecting facilities' which allow drug users inject illegal substances such as heroin and cocaine without fear of arrest by gardaí.
The move, which is being pushed by Labour Minister for Drugs Aodhán Ó Ríordáin but also supported by Fine Gael, is aimed at reducing drug deaths and infection from serious diseases caused by drug users sharing needles.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Ó Ríordáin said he is "delighted" the legislation got the green light and said the first pilot centre is likely to be established in the Merchant Quay drug rehabilitation centre in Dublin City Centre.
The minister said he has received requests to have a similar centre set up in Cork and insisted the business community in Dublin is supportive of his plans.
"Business owners are tired of sweeping up syringes and worried about the image Dublin has among tourists who see open drug use on our streets and that's why they have advocated for a model which will help clean up our streets," he said.
However, a Government source last night said there will a "considerable lead-in time" before a pilot facility is opened.
It is expected the first centre will not be opened until 2017 at the earliest, as the legislative process is likely to be the focus of extensive discussions and debate.
Yesterday, additional heads for inclusion in the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2015 were agreed by the Cabinet.
The next phase will see consultation between agencies affected by the introduction of supervised injection centres - including the Health Service Executive and An Garda Siochana.
During this phase, discussions are likely to focus on what powers of arrest gardaí have over those coming and going from these drug centres.
Sources have stressed that the new laws will not amount to the decriminalisation of drugs.
In other countries that introduced supervised injection centres, policing authorities stop and search drug users in the vicinity of facilities if they believe someone is dealing drugs rather than intending to bring the drugs to the centres to inject.
"The consultation that will take place will establish the operating procedures around the pilot facility," a source said.
Premises would be given a clinical licence to allow drug use on site and users would be monitored by nursing and social care staff while injecting.
The centres would also have emergency services on site to provide medical attention when users overdose.
Staff would not help the drug users inject but would offer medical assistance for health problems and minor injuries.
They would also offer users advice on how to recover from addiction and access drug rehabilitation treatments.
Mr Ó Ríordáin said the facilities will reduce and alleviate some of the "complex needs of a vulnerable and hard to reach group of addicts".
"They are not the only solution to addressing drug addiction but will play a significant role in reducing street injecting and drug-related deaths," he said. "Research published by the Health Research Board today demonstrated quite clearly that 387 people died in 2013 due to drug poisoning and one-in-5 of these deaths was caused by heroin use.
"The establishment of supervised injecting facilities will allow for earlier medical intervention in the case of overdoses and can also act as a gateway to treatment for drug users," he added.