"It has passed. A lump in my throat to be honest" – this was the emotional tweet from Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the former drugs minister in Ireland, as he celebrated the long awaited news that Ireland is set to open Supervised Injection Facilities (SIFs) for individuals to inject drugs.
In May, Senators approved legislation to set up supervised injecting centres by passing the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities, SIFs) Bill 2017, after it received prior approval in the lower house of the Dáil in March.
This news marks a long and successful campaign to readdress Ireland’s position on addiction and public health. The conversation around SIFs is building momentum across the world and Ireland’s decision to grant access to sterile equipment, safe areas for consumption, and advice on treatment and services for those who suffer with addiction is the culmination of hard work by many.
One of those who took the lead in the discussion is Tony Duffin, Director of the Ana Liffey Drug Project. He explains how Ireland achieved this new policy:
“On 20th January 2012, the then Lord Mayor of Dublin Andrew Montague launched the Ana Liffey Drug Project’s Strategic Plan 2012–2014. Two goals within the plan related to securing support for a Supervised Injecting Facility in Dublin. This public statement of intent was the first step on the journey towards the implementation of supervised injecting in Ireland.
“Based on existing examples from Australia, Canada and other jurisdictions, there was acknowledgement that it would take time, but I’m pleased to say that five years, three months and 27 days later, on 16th May 2017, President Michael D. Higgins signed the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities) Bill 2017 into law. This allows for the provision of Supervised Injecting Facilities in Ireland under licence. A pilot service will be established in Dublin soon.”
Established in 1982, Ana Liffey has provided ‘Low Threshold - Harm Reduction’ services to individuals are experiencing problem substance use for decades, but Director Tony Dufin is keen to point out that Ireland’s new reforms are the result of a collective effort.
“Ana Liffey played a key role, but there were many champions from a wide range of stakeholder groups who lent their, influence, knowledge and expertise at critical points along the way e.g. barristers, doctors, journalists, politicians, community representatives business representatives, people who inject drugs and many more.”
The Irish President Michael D. Higgins is a Patron of Ana Liffey Drug Project by accepting the invitation in 2014. Ireland has shown consistent leadership in its evidence and health-based drug strategies.
With so much political will for drug policy reform, what has been the national mood been like?
“Within my role as CEO of Ana Liffey,” Duffin explains, “I have engaged actively with local, national and international media. This engagement has been an important element of informing the national discourse. However, the significant shift in the national discourse came when Minister for the National Drugs Strategy Aodhan O’Riordan TD became the political champion for Supervised Injecting Facilities in 2015 and is recognised as the person who began the legislative process, and then his successor Catherine Byrne TD picked up the baton bringing the legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas (parliament) – the Dàil (lower house) and the Seanad (upper house).”
Supervised Injection Facilities ensure that any potential drug paraphernalia that’s discarded through street use will be cleaned up and contained by the proposed facilities, this has a number of obvious public health benefits. Ana Liffey has detailed the need for reform through raising awareness of drug-related litter. The response to the reforms has been largely positive, indicating that the balanced conversation has been grasped and understood. Supervised Injection Facilities are grounded in evidence and in terms of collective social health, and Tony is eager to keep the dialogue going by highlighting the need to alleviate any potential concerns.
“I have no doubt that a well-run pilot service will be evaluated as an effective response to street-based injecting in Dublin City Centre. Once the evaluation of the successful pilot service is complete, then I expect that further licences will be issued to service providers to deliver Supervised Injecting in identified areas of need across Ireland. Delivery of the service will improve the amenity of the area for all and will not be detrimental to the locale.”
Ireland looks set to keep the momentum going, as Tony Duffin points out, “There is currently a progressive drug policy window of opportunity in Ireland, and the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use is on the national agenda.”
It’s currently estimated that an average of one death per day takes place in Ireland owing to accidental overdose. If Ireland’s experience with reforms match that of their counterparts in Canada, then drug deaths will hopefully soon become a thing of the past.
It’s more than apparent that there’s a broad, inclusive and proactive discussion around drug law reform in Ireland.
This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.