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Calling for 'Radical Shift' in Drug Policy, Ireland Moves to Decriminalize

Drug minister announces medically supervised injection facilities will begin opening next year

Public health advocates say harm reduction policies, such as needle exchanges and supervised injection facilities, save lives. (Photo: Trinn Suwannapha/ World Bank/Flickr)

Public health advocates say harm reduction policies, such as needle exchanges and supervised injection facilities, save lives. (Photo: Trinn Suwannapha/ World Bank/Flickr)

Moving away from the prevailing Drug War paradigm under which users and addicts are shamed and criminalized, Ireland's chief of National Drugs Strategy said Monday that he is backing the decriminalization of a number of narcotics and will be opening supervised injection rooms beginning next year.

In an address to the London School of Economics organized by the International Drug Policy Project, Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin outlined his plan to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of narcotics, including heroin, cocaine, and cannabis, as part of what he described as a "radical cultural shift" in the approach to drug addiction.

"I am firmly of the view that there needs to be a cultural shift in how we regard substance misuse if we are to break this cycle and make a serious attempt to tackle drug and alcohol addiction," said Ó Ríordáin. He said that the "reality" of drug use is much more "nuanced" than simply, "drugs are bad, just say no, stop taking them."

Ó Ríordáin, who according to Vice News played a "key role in legalizing gay marriage in Ireland...and in gaining equal rights for the LGBT and traveller communities," said drug users are similarly stigmatized. 

"What the debate about safer injecting rooms is really about is, 'We really don't like these people, they are a sub-species, less than human, we should just sweep them away and it will all be better,'" Ó Ríordáin continued. "If you are a citizen of the Republic, you should be treated as a citizen of the Republic. If you have illness, society needs to treat you."

Medically supervised injection rooms are expected to open in Dublin next year, followed shortly afterwards by facilities in Cork, Galway, and Limerick. 

Tony Duffin, director of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, the first 'low threshold – harm reduction' type service in Ireland, said that such centers can "save lives."

"I've seen firsthand how the services have helped people," Duffin told Vice. "Nobody has ever died of an overdose in a drug consumption room across the globe in the 90 centers that are currently running." Such facilities already exist in a number of European countries including the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Spain, and Germany. 

Ireland now follows a wave of countries moving towards drug liberalization amid increasing evidence that the War on Drugs has failed by measures including public health, crime prevention, and criminal justice.

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