Irish Parliament Passes Legislation to Permit Supervised Injecting Facilities

by Olivia Rutter

Wednesday, the Irish Seanad passed the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities) Bill 2017. Once signed into law by the President, it will establish a legal framework for the Minister for Health to licence the operation of facilities where people can inject drugs under the supervision of trained professionals.

Supervised injecting facilities, pioneered by Switzerland in the 1980’s, provide safe and clean locations for intravenous drug injection, with professional medical staff on hand. Now they operate across Europe and have been shown to be an effective harm reduction tool, reduce unsafe disposal of drug paraphernalia, and increase health indicators for people who inject drugs. The first centre is expected to open in Dublin later this year.

National addiction service, The Ana Liffey Drug Project has championed the provision of Supervised Injecting Facilities in Ireland since 2012. Tony Duffin, CEO of Ana Liffey said of the news:

“This is a great day for drug policy in Ireland. Supervised injecting facilities are a very positive step – they will save both lives and money. Ana Liffey has been working for the implementation of these services for a number of years, and it is terrific to see that work pay off. On behalf of all our staff and clients, I’d like to thank the current Minister, Catherine Byrne TD and her predecessor, Senator Aodhán O’Ríordáin for bringing this issue forward. I’d also like to acknowledge the support of the barristers who gave their time pro bono to work with us through the Voluntary Assistance Scheme of the Bar of Ireland. More broadly, I’d like to thank the members of both Houses for their engagement with this issue. There has been cross party support for this initiative, which needs to be acknowledged and commended.”

There are already over 90 such centres in operation across the world, providing front line care to people who inject drugs while connecting them with treatment services. The passage of this law is timely, given the recent reports of fentanyl having made its way to the UK.

Duffin says that the establishment of the pilot centre cannot come quick enough:

“The reports out of Northern Ireland are worrying – we’ve seen the devastation fentanyl and related drugs have caused in other jurisdictions. They present a huge overdose risk even to people who have high tolerances for opiate drugs. There has never been an overdose death in a supervised injecting centre, so it’s important to get the centre open as soon as possible.  We look forward to working with local stakeholders to do all we can to ensure that that the pilot centre is a success.”

The UK government should be paying attention to the example Ireland is setting.

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