Call for complete ‘think-tank’ on drugs control

by Rose Barrett
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By Rose Barrett

For mother of three, Paula Kearney, a complete policy change on drugs control is needed in Dublin, and indeed, across the country.

Fifty years of prohibition and criminalising the people who use drugs has done nothing to reduce the appalling grip illegal drugs has had on the most vulnerable in society.

“I came from the north inner city,” said Paula “And now live in Finglas, two communities devastated by the drug scene.”

Having recently qualified from Maynooth University with a first-class honour in Social Science, Paula did her placement with Swan Youth Services, and is now working with Saol Project, both projects are within the north inner city.

With three children aged 18,8 and 6 years, Paula knows full well the constant threat of the illegal drug industry. She and like-minded youth workers are now calling for a complete ‘think-tank’ of the national drugs crisis.

Initially, a small number of youth workers compiled a weighted document arguing on best practise to fight the drugs situation, calling to end prohibition and the criminalisation of the person using drugs, was posted on social media and circulated.

Now the signatures have reached 136 youth workers along with five doctors and two senators, and supported by several councillors.

“We believe that the policy of prohibition/criminalisation has failed and is not the way forward,” said Paula. “Prohibition only drives young people who use drugs underground, it places them in further danger.

“Take the National Drugs Strategy,” said Paula. “This is supposed to be a health-led approach, but how can it be – because it criminalises the people who use drugs, that is, the victims who ‘ve been groomed and sucked into the insidious world of drugs.

“Even the dealers come from disadvantaged areas, they too live in poverty, their families don’t have the finances to buy the designer trainers and clothing. Many of the dealers are vulnerable people who came from the same place, from a place of poverty.

“Becoming a dealer gives them an identity, a sense of place and offers them financial incentives and status. People who are dependent on drugs or dealers – they’re all victims, and should not be punished/criminalised – the strategies are wrong and need to be changed now!”

Paula appealed for a serious, national conversation about regulating drugs properly – and stated it’s needed now. 

“It costs €75,000 to imprison an adult for one year and €340,000 for a juvenile.  This is money that would be better invested in community and rehabilitation programmes. If the drugs market was regulated, people would not be buying drugs on the street, buying from dealers who mix drugs to make them more potent.

“If a Harm Reduction Policy Approach was introduced, those dependent on drugs could buy regulated drugs from a pharmacy or a health clinic – and would not live in fear of contaminated drugs.”

Collectively,Youth Workers Against Prohibition Ireland (YWAP) called for an “adult conversation about the need to regulate all drugs… to create a model that keeps our young people in Ireland safe.. while removing the stigma for those who are affected by addiction… treating them instead with compassion and care.” 

“Under the current policy of Prohibition, the drugs market is run by criminal gangs who operate through fear, intimidation and the exploitation of youth,” the group stated.

Citing positive examples of drug policy changes in Canada, Iceland and the US, the group concluded:

“We are calling for an open dialogue across society, an all-island conversation about how drugs can be managed in a way that is best for all of us. We need effective intervention and we need it now!”

Anyone willing to join or support YWAP, email [email protected]m

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