Time has come to decriminalise drug users

24 November 2022

Launching Labour’s motion calling for a date to be set for a Citizens’ Assembly on drugs, Labour justice spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said it’s time for a step change in how we treat drug users in Ireland.

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

Deputy Ó Ríordáin 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 now 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.

“Overall, there has been a lack of visibility at Minister or Minister of State level, a lack of joined up thinking between Ministers, Departments and State agencies, and a lack of focus, energy and urgency in spearheading the State’s response to drugs.

“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.

“Labour’s motion calls for a community-based health-led alternative response would target the adverse health, social and economic consequences of drug use and would provide harm reduction services to address disease transmission and overdoses. We also need to introduce emergency amending legislation to facilitate mobile supervised injection facilities, for both urban and regional sites as well as regulatory oversight of all addiction treatment services, with a commitment to client centred and evidence-based recovery programmes.

“The expansion of the work of CAB to target and seize smaller assets in local communities with the full resources of An Garda Síochána targeted at organised crime gangs, traffickers and dealers will also be crucial in moving to a successful health led approach.

“Those who need these services deserve humane and compassionate treatment. If someone is crippled by addiction they deserve the care and compassion of this state. We need to mature as a nation in terms of drug-law. We need to protect vulnerable users. We now need urgent action from the government to help save people’s lives.”

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