Saturday 24 August 2019

Patrick Costello: 'Ministers must take charge to help city addicts'

Plans for a pilot safe-injection centre in Dublin have been rejected - a backward step in helping users, their families and communities

HELP: Ingrid Van Beek, medical director of Australia’s first supervised injection room in Sydney. Photo: Will Burgess/Reuters
HELP: Ingrid Van Beek, medical director of Australia’s first supervised injection room in Sydney. Photo: Will Burgess/Reuters

Patrick Costello

The recent decision from Dublin City Council to refuse planning permission for a Medically Supervised Injection Centre (MSIC) is a disappointing one; this much-needed service has been delayed time and again and is now facing more delays.

MSICs give drugs users a place to use that is private, clean, with medical supports in case of overdose and provides both clean needles and proper disposal.

They prevent public drug use and used syringes being thrown about public streets. Most importantly, MSIC save lives, and there is a wealth of international research that backs this up - research from Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

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The Merchants Quay site was to be only a pilot; the expectation was a national roll-out of similar services, no doubt spread around the country as wide as the heroin problem has spread.

Delays to the Merchants Quay pilot will delay national services and put lives at risk unnecessarily.

The root cause of this current setback is a lack of real engagement from Government on drug use and addiction.

A significant issue for the planners was the lack of a robust policing plan with the application. When An Garda Siochana announced its refusal in July of this year to provide this plan, the ministers for health, justice and drugs strategy should have stepped in.

Why was there not a demand from political leaders for a national policy for policing such services that could have addressed planners' concerns, not just a local solution? Where was the leadership of the ministers to help find a way around this road block?

This lack of engagement is not surprising as it mirrors the Government's drugs policy in general. Supervised injection facilities are a harm reduction service - harm reduction being a key element of a compassionate drugs policy - but it cannot be the only element. Alongside harm reduction, we need treatment services and prevention services. In both these areas, the Government has also not delivered.

The availability of detox and rehab services has continued under this Government to be meagre. Without meaningful provision of treatment options, we are not addressing addiction in any real way.

Alongside this, despite the economic recovery, we are not seeing improved funding to help prevention. One recent example of this is the difficulties faced by Targeted Response to Youth (TRY), a highly successful outreach project in St Teresa's Gardens off Dublin's South Circular Road.

This project has been successful in steering young people away from drugs, addiction and gang violence. Despite this success, it is facing funding challenges with state agencies backing away instead of stepping in to help continue this much needed work.

In the wake of Dublin City Council's rejection of the planning application, we need to see ministers take this issue seriously, and be proactive in making these services happen. Otherwise drug users trapped in addiction, their families and their communities will all continue to suffer.

Patrick Costello is a Green Party councillor on Dublin City Council and Green Party spokesperson for transport - @Costellop

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