The recent amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Bill introduces supervised injecting facilities for heroin addicts, and it’s the Government’s biggest attempt to tackle the drug problem in Ireland in over a decade. With online suppliers becoming a major player in the drugs trade and the exploitation of legal loopholes, the Government may be trying to grapple something that’s out of their reach.
The Europol EU Drug Markets Report 2016 states that Irish people are the biggest consumers of drugs and psychoactive substances in the EU and the country accounts for 5 per cent of all ecstasy seizures. This may not come as much of a surprise given the draconian drug laws governing our system.
The rest of Europe has had to deal with their own drug crises at one stage or another, and most countries came out of them with significantly lower drug crime figures, but the spotlight is now on Ireland to either follow in their footsteps or introduce an equally effective policy that puts this conundrum to rest.
At the peak of its own drug problem, Portugal decriminalised all psychoactive substances in 2001, turning the possession of drugs into a health issue rather than a criminal one. Roughly 14 years on, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction figures show that HIV cases in the country have drastically decreased, going from 1,016 in 2001 to 56 in 2012. The nation now has the second lowest death rate among drug users in Europe.
In contrast Ireland has one of the highest death rates among drug users. The country ranks third in Europe for most drug-related deaths per million of the population.
One walk along Dublin’s inner city centre shows that the Irish citizens simply refuse to acknowledge the inherent problem, and they completely marginalise drug users into a category of petty, useless criminals who sponge from society.
Heroin usage in rural Ireland has also been vastly on the rise. Despite this, there are just six needle exchanges outside of Dublin, and the only care available to addicts is methadone even though there are a number of other treatments available in other European countries.
Ireland has now developed into a drug-ridden society. Irish politicians, such as former Minister of State and TD, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, have been and still are trying to be proactive about the situation.
However, the pace at which it took the Government to provide the first step of a solution is quite worrying, and if it takes more than a decade to address a problem that’s been visible for over 30 years, by the time a productive strategy presents itself we might be faced with an issue that has escalated beyond repair.