Has the time come to decriminalise drug users

by Rose Barrett
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Labour justice spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said it’s time for a step change in how we treat drug users in Ireland. 

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said we must take a health based approach to drug use in Ireland, as well as strengthening the resources of CAB and An Garda Síochána to target organised crime gangs, traffickers and dealers. 

He said: “The criminalisation of drug use simply hasn’t worked in Ireland, in Europe or abroad. Next week, Labour will demand that the government set a date for a Citizens’ Assembly on drugs, with a focus on decriminalising the drug user. 

“The Programme for Government committed the parties in government to convening a citizens’ assembly on drugs but, despite the Taoiseach’s stated intention to do so in “the latter part of this year”, there is so far no indication as to whether or when it will be held. 

“Drug abuse and its harmful effects, including crimes of violence, intimidation and extortion aimed at addicts, their families and their communities, are no longer urban phenomena and are spread across the State.” 

Ireland sadly, he noted has the joint-highest rate of drug-induced deaths among 16- to 64-year-olds in the European Union. 

Labour is proposing that the State recognise this, decriminalise drug users, and move to a health based, rather than criminal based, system of care. 

Aubrey Mc Carthy, Chair/Co-founder Tiglin and Chair South West Drug and Alcohol Task Force stated: “The motion to decriminalise should also focus on ensuring that pathways to adequately supports are made more readily available. Tiglin has and remains a service that promotes person centred approaches.” 

However he stressed: “More rehab beds, detox beds, and aftercare supports along with housing and pathways to employment and education is what will help to reveal a person’s true potential and ability, and to cast off the shackles of addiction.” 

Deputy Ó Ríordáin added: “The policy of criminalisation of the user has failed, nationally and internationally, the resources of the State are wasted on inappropriately processing medical addiction cases through the courts and prisons, and a health-led and patient-focussed alternative is needed.” 

He noted Labour’s motion calls for a community-based health-led alternative response to target the adverse health, social and economic consequences of drug use.

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