The controversial approach at curbing drug addiction is set to start up early next year.
One of the toughest battles in transforming society’s view on drug addicts is the glaring scarlet stigma that comes with addiction — despite the physiological evidence, many people reject the notion that addiction is a disease. However, Ireland’s Minister plans to incite a “radical cultural shift” toward drug addiction, reports the Irish Times. The country plans to decriminalize small amounts of a number of drugs, including heroin and cocaine, as well as implement “injection rooms” where drug addicts can safely shoot up.
According to the Independent, the chief of Ireland’s National Drugs Strategy, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, said that drug users will be able to shoot up in safe injection rooms in Dublin as soon as next year — and early in the year at that. So the shift will not only be radical, but rapid.
These injection rooms will be professional centers where users can visit and shoot up without facing any legal consequences. The centers will have medical professionals on staff who could react swiftly in the case of an overdose.
Supervised injection sites already exist in Canada and Australia. Over a nine-year period, the injection center in Sydney managed 3,426 overdose events with not one single fatality, and Vancouver’s center managed 336 without any deaths.
“Research has shown that the use of supervised injecting centres is associated with self-reported reductions in injecting risk behaviours,” Ó Ríordáin told the Irish Times. The centers can also provide clean needles for drug administration, discouraging the re-use of needles which can transmit infectious, bloodborne diseases.
“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 Mr Ó Ríordáin. He also feels as though compassion for drug addicts is essential, and that drug addiction should be removed from the criminal justice system as far as possible.
The United States, a country that spends $59 billion a year on drug enforcement, might do well to learn from the alternative approaches to addiction exemplified by Canada, Australia, and Ireland. Instead of focusing on treatment and rehabilitation, drug addicts in the US are likely to be jailed for using the illegal substances — many suffering harsh and even deadly withdrawal symptoms in their cells.
Addiction isn’t a choice. It’s not something addicts can simply overcome in a few weeks and “turn their lives around,” as many addiction stigmatizers wrongly assume. Forcing addicts to choose between shooting up in dirty alleyways or suffering in a courtroom or jail cell isn’t an effective solution for long-term change.
By decriminalizing small amounts of drugs, creating safer environments for drug addicts, and implementing better addiction treatment programs, people will have a much more pleasant road to recovery and the brutal stigma will be reduced.
“This will be a wider discussion under the next government but once people get their head around the argument, about what decriminalisation actually means, that policy won’t be about the drug but about the individual,” Ó Ríordáin explained. “Then regardless of the drug the individual needs an intervention and society will be saying, ‘the substance is illegal, but you are not a criminal for taking it’.”