Trevor Laffan: Time for a new plan in quest to tackle scourge of drug abuse

The Cork Local Drugs and Alcohol Task Force and the HSE also expressed an interest in developing a supervised injection centre in Cork - the thought of it frightens a lot of people, but it’s time to look at the evidence, so says Trevor Laffan in his weekly column
Trevor Laffan: Time for a new plan in quest to tackle scourge of drug abuse

There has been a sharp rise in casual drug use in Cork , to the point that it is now normalised in social settings. Picture: iStock

I READ recently that a man was arrested in Cork after he was allegedly found in possession of drugs worth more than €100,000.

It took me back to a time when I started out in Dublin, in 1980, as a young member of An Garda Siochana.

The illegal drug scene was well established, and heroin was in full flow and a serious problem, even then.

Just a couple of weeks after arriving at my first station, in Blackrock, more than half a ton of cannabis, worth £2 million, was seized at Dublin docks. The haul was discovered in a container at the port and gardaí knew at that stage they were dealing with highly organised gangs with sophisticated networks, who could successfully import huge quantities of drugs.

That’s almost 40 years ago and, since then, there has been an increase in the amount of drugs entering the country illegally and a rise in the number of people consuming them.

The country is awash with cannabis, cocaine, and heroin and what is being detected represents a fraction of what is getting through the net.

Users are injecting openly in public places and the evidence is on our streets and in our parks, with discarded needles and other drug paraphernalia strewn on the ground every day.

There has been a sharp rise in casual drug use in Cork and experts have warned that cocaine has infiltrated all sections of society, to the point that it is now normalised in social settings, and addiction counsellors are seeing more and more people hooked on the drug.

I don’t think that news will come as a great surprise to any of us, and all the signs indicate that drug abuse in Cork these days is worse than ever, so maybe the time has come for a different approach.

Ann Murphy reported in The Echo that a former Lord Mayor of Cork said plans for a supervised injection centre for the city needed to be advanced, despite a similar plan being rejected in Dublin.

Mick Finn, an independent member of Cork City Council, also said that people need to realise that heroin users are addicts who need medical help and services, including a supervised injection centre, to help them.

He said the location of an injection centre in Cork is likely to result in a debate and opposition, but he stressed that it is required to provide a safe place for heroin addicts.

Senator Colette Kelleher has also called for a safe injection centre in Cork because she says one is needed for harm reduction and to give dignity to those battling addiction. Research shows that safe injection centres can help people learn about harm reduction and safe injecting.

I knew Colette when she was head of the Cork Simon Community and she has vast experience in this area, so her opinion is worth listening to.

The Cork Local Drugs and Alcohol Task Force and the HSE also expressed an interest in developing a supervised injection centre in Cork, with public health experts describing it as a fantastic public health tool that will save lives.

The thought of it frightens a lot of people, but it’s time to look at the evidence. There have been many attempts to tackle the drug problem over the years, but they have all failed to rid society of the scourge of drugs.

There’s no shame in that, though, because no other jurisdiction has solved the problem either, although some do claim to have made a difference with the use of medically supervised injecting centres.

These are places where addicts can go to use their drugs under medical supervision in a controlled environment. Users are provided with access to clean, sterile injecting equipment with trained staff on hand to provide emergency care in the event of an overdose. Staff also provide advice on treatment and rehabilitation.

The Uniting Church has been operating a Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) in Sydney, Australia since 2001 and they advertise it as a compassionate and practical health service. Registered nurses and counsellors and health education officers supervise episodes of drug injecting that would otherwise happen elsewhere.

They provide immediate access to emergency medical care in the event of an overdose or other health issue and the staff connect with clients and offer them referrals to a variety of services, including specialist addiction treatment.

It makes sense, but not everyone will like the idea.

Daniel McConnell wrote in the Irish Examiner that there were grave concerns within Government over its plan to liberalise Ireland’s drug laws. Retired Judge Garrett Sheehan, chairman of the Government’s working group on “alternative approaches to possession of drugs for personal use”, submitted a minority report to ministers. He recommended that the Government resist calls for decriminalisation; that they restore the rule of law; that drug rehabilitation programmes be urgently audited and evaluated; that people are educated about the dangers of drug use, and that there is a greater policing of recreational drug use, adding that, at present, the threat of imprisonment can act as a catalyst for undergoing treatment.

In other words, let’s keep doing what we’ve been doing all along, even though it isn’t working.

We’ve seen over the last 40 years that prison, or the threat of it, won’t solve the drug problem.

Drug addicts are beyond worrying about anything other than where the next fix is coming from, and habitual criminals don’t mind doing a bit of prison time because there’s too much money to be made so it’s worth the risk.

Take a seat in any courthouse and witness the number of repeat offenders appearing every day with lists of previous convictions as long as your arm.

That tells the real story of the effectiveness of the threat of jail.

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