Ireland’s first Supervised Injecting Facility to provide safe harbour and medical help for chronic drug users
Government approves the publication of the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities) Bill 2017
Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister of State for Communities and the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne today (Tuesday) welcomed the Government’s decision to approve the publication of the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities) Bill 2017.
The Bill, which was approved by Cabinet at its meeting this morning, will allow the Minister for Health to issue a licence, with conditions, to operate a 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 that he is, “delighted to be bringing forward this important legislation that adopts a health-led approach to drugs-use by those in our society who have been marginalised as a result of their addictions.”
The provisions of the Bill would also:
- Exempt authorised users from the offence of possession when in the facility, and with the permission of the licence holder;
- It would provide an exemption for licensed providers whereby it is currently an offence to permit the preparation or possession of a controlled substance in premises;
- It would enable the Minister to consult with the HSE, An Garda Síochána, or others on matters relating to a supervised injecting facility, and enable the Minister to make regulations relating to the operation of such facilities.
It is important to note that 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 attended Cabinet today alongside Minister Harris, afterwards said that the facilities – the first of which will be run on a pilot basis – will be a safe harbour for chronic drug users. “They will provide a controlled place for people to inject, but will be much more than that – a place to rest, have a chat and access the services people need. 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. The human cost of public injecting is clear and keeps adding up – the lack of dignity, the effect it has on people’s health, wellbeing and safety. We know that these facilities are not the sole solution to the drugs problem and many other steps are needed, but 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 is made.
Minister Harris added, “I know people have concerns about where this first pilot facility will be located, but I want to assure you that no decisions have been made. The HSE will be undertaking a process of consultation, including with local stakeholders and communities. Any decision on the location of the pilot facility will be informed by the outcome of this consultation process.”
Notes for Editors – about supervised injecting facilities
- 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.
- They 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.
- 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