Ireland’s first Supervised Injecting Facility a step closer as legislation passes all stages in the Oireachtas
Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister of State for Communities and the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne today welcomed the passing of the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities) Bill 2017 through all stages in the Oireachtas.
The Bill, which was published in February and was passed by the Dáil in March, was passed by the Seanad today. It will allow the Minister for Health to issue a licence, with conditions, to operate Ireland’s first supervised injecting facility. This is a controlled environment where drug users may self-administer, by injection, drugs they have brought with them. Such facilities will provide access to clean, sterile injecting equipment and have trained staff on hand to provide emergency care in the event of an overdose, as well as advice on treatment and rehabilitation. They will also help alleviate the problems associated with injecting on the street, including drug-related litter.
Minister Harris said “This Bill is a progressive step founded on a health-led, evidence-based approach to drug use and countering the effect that it has on drug users and our communities. All the international evidence shows that supervised injecting facilities have a positive impact for both and the passage of this Bill is an important milestone as part of the overall work of Minister Catherine Byrne and in the context of the National Drugs Strategy, which will be published shortly.”
The Bill will:
- Provide an exemption for licensed providers whereby it is currently an offence to permit the preparation or possession of a controlled substance in premises;
- Exempt authorised users from the offence of possession of controlled drugs under certain conditions, when in the facility and with the permission of the licence holder;
- Enable the Minister to consult with the HSE, An Garda Síochána, or others on matters relating to a supervised injecting facility, including its establishment, on-going monitoring and review.
Possession of controlled drugs will continue to be an offence outside a supervised injecting facility. Possession for sale or supply will remain an offence both inside and outside a supervised injecting facility.
Minister of State for Communities and the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne, who has driven forward this legislation since her appointment just under one year ago, said after the successful vote in the Seanad, “This Bill gives chronic drug users the chance to have a new beginning. It is also the chance for a new beginning for the wider community in areas where drug abuse and public injecting have taken their toll on those communities. Minister Harris and I would like to acknowledge the work of our predecessors, Minister Varadkar and Senator Ó Ríordáin, for their commitment to this issue. We would also like to thank the Ana Liffey Drug Project, and others, who have for many years campaigned and been tireless advocates of the benefits that supervised injecting can have for our society. We know that these facilities are not the sole solution to the drugs problem and many other steps are needed, but with this Bill and the forthcoming National Drugs Strategy I am committed to doing everything we can to help those who need it most.”
The Bill does not establish a location for a supervised injecting facility, but a pilot facility is planned for Dublin city centre. The HSE have established a working group to gather data, consider possible options and to undertake consultation before any decision on a location is made.
Minister Byrne added, “We now have the enabling legislation, but this is just the first step. I do not underestimate the difficulties of getting the pilot facility off the ground, but the positive effect of these centres, demonstrated in many other countries, is unmistakeable. We need to locate the pilot facility wherever the need of people who inject drugs is greatest, but I want to reassure residents, business owners and the wider community that the HSE will be undertaking a process of consultation. Any decision on the location of the pilot facility will be informed by the outcome of this consultation process and I want people to be fully aware of what the pilot facility will do before it opens. I believe in a health-led and person-centred approach to the drug problem. For me this is all about people and looking after the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society.
Notes for Editors
- There is a recognised problem with street injecting in Ireland, particularly in Dublin city centre. This practice poses a significant health risk for the drug users and results in discarded needles which present a public health risk to others.
- The establishment of supervised injecting facilities is proposed to help deal with these problems and the Programme for Government contains a commitment to legislate for them.
- Supervised injecting facilities are particularly effective in reaching out to chaotic drug users and marginalised groups, especially those who use drugs on the streets, or in other risky and unhygienic conditions.
- Drug consumption rooms have been operating in Europe for 30 years, with the first drug consumption room opening in Switzerland in 1986. In October 2016 the first supervised injecting facility in France was opened in a suburb of Paris. Lisbon and Glasgow are currently working towards opening similar facilities.
- There are now almost 90 drug consumption rooms operating around the world. Evidence from these sites demonstrates:
- A reduction in fatal overdoses and transmission of blood borne diseases;
- A decrease in the incidence of public injecting;
- Significant reductions in drug related litter, and
- No increase in the use of drugs or of drug-related crime.
- International evaluation studies have found an overall positive impact on the communities where these facilities are located.
- These facilities provide a low threshold, point of contact for people who inject drugs enabling them to access health, support and drug treatment services, when they are ready to do so. They provide access to:
- Clean, sterile injecting equipment;
- Medical and social care interventions;
- Trained staff to provide emergency care in the event of an overdose.
- Additional funding was allocated in Budget 2017 to support drugs and social inclusion measures. The HSE National Service Plan 2017 contains a commitment to establish a pilot supervised injecting facility in Dublin. It would be run by the HSE or a non-governmental organisation working under a service level agreement with the HSE.
- No decision has been taken on the specific location of any such a facility. In line with the experience of other countries which have established such facilities, it would be expected that the location will be carefully selected to address, most effectively, the requirements and concerns of the service users and the wider community.
- The pilot supervised injecting facility will be subject to on-going monitoring and a thorough evaluation. The results of the pilot will inform future decisions about any further supervised injecting facilities in an evidence-based manner.