Drugs minister considers 'legal heroin' at injection centres
Drugs minister Aodhan O Riordain has said the Government will have to explore whether so-called 'legal heroin' will be doled out at medically-supervised injection centres.
The Labour TD expects to have Cabinet approval for legislation that will allow the centres to be set up by the end of the year.
When asked if the centres would supply heroin to service-users to inject on site, the Minister said it was an "option to be explored".
"There are substances and substitutes that you can use and have been used elsewhere," he said.
"There's two different ways of having a centre like that, do you prescribe the heroin yourself or do you let them bring in their own heroin?" he said.
"If you let people bring in their own substances you're probably going to get more interaction and buy-in from people who you are trying to target.
"If you supply your own, it may be safer and more controlled, but you may not get as many people who want to use the service."
Medically-supervised injection rooms are clinics where heroin addicts and other intravenous drug-users can inject themselves, with medical staff on site to intervene in the case of an overdose.
People who use the centres are also offered treatment programmes and other rehabilitation help when they visit.
"I would be more comfortable with something safe that we would prescribe ourselves... but it's not about what makes me comfortable, it's about what type of centre service-users will attend," he added.
Organisations such as the Ana Liffey Drugs Project have been touting the idea as a solution to Dublin's public injecting problem, which sees drug addicts shoot up in parks, alleyways and other public places.
The injection centres which Mr O Riordain is championing are just one aspect of a radical approach that the recently-appointed drugs minister has devised.
He is also in favour of the decriminalisation of drugs, which would see people who are caught in possession of small amounts of drugs being dealt with outside the criminal justice system.
"It doesn't mean that you're soft on drugs or that you're facilitating drug use. It just means that you are dealing with it more effectively," Mr O Riordain told the Herald.
"To assume that people will be influenced by criminal sanctions is old-fashioned. I don't see the point in handing someone who is caught with a certain amount of cannabis a criminal conviction for life," he added.
Decriminalisation is not to be confused with legalisation, the minister pointed out, it was just a more effective way of dealing with the problem.
"Some 70-75pc of drug cases in our courts are for drug possession charges," he said.
Instead, people will be offered counselling and other interventions to help them combat their drug use.
Mr O Riordain was appointed Minister of State with responsibility for drugs in April, and he admits that he wished he had more time in the role during this Government's term.
"I thought I knew the issue very well after spending 11 years teaching in the inner city, but the problem changes," he said.
"I've been shocked by some of the things I've come across."
He recalled being approached by parents in his constituency who told him of their unexpected encounter with drugs.
"One of their children got sucked into a drug problem at a low level, just smoking cannabis thinking that there is no big deal and then a number of years later they were left with a €5,000 drug debt hanging over them," he said.
"Somebody came to their door with a gun - these are people who never in a million years would have thought that they would be sucked in to this.
"They ended up having to go to the credit union and get €5,000 to pay the debt."
Close to the top of Mr O Riordain's priority list is changing people's perception of addicts.
"People perceive those who use drugs as being the problem and not their addiction," he said.