(ANTIMEDIA) Dublin, Ireland – In a move proving to be a global trend, Ireland’s State Minister in charge of the National Drugs Strategy announced Monday he would work to initiate the process of decriminalizing all drugs in the country. A main element of the plan seeks to create “injection centers” where addicts can safely consume their drugs and receive treatment. Overall, Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin plans to work toward decriminalization as a “radical cultural shift” in how the government deals with drug addiction.
“I am firmly of the view that there needs to be a cultural shift in how we regard substance misuse if we are to break this cycle and make a serious attempt to tackle drug and alcohol addiction,” Ó Ríordáin said during a speech at the London School of Economics on Monday. He stressed the need for compassion and argued that drug addiction should be removed from the criminal justice system altogether.
Ó Ríordáin said that as part of this new approach, Ireland will establish “injection centers” early next year. Expressing a desire to combat the “stigma” surrounding drug addiction — and stressing that the centers would not be a “free for all” — Ó Ríordáin explained the reasoning behind allowing drug users to inject under supervision:
“These are clinically controlled environments which aim to engage hard-to-reach populations,” he said. “Research has shown that the use of supervised injecting centres is associated with self-reported reductions in injecting risk behaviors.” The Minister expressed hope that opening facilities like these will help reduce the shame associated with addiction, which often “disrupts the capacity of families and individuals” to seek help.
Ó Ríordáin said a new version of the Misuse of Drugs Bill will remove legislative obstacles to opening such centers. The facilities will be regulated by the government, and the first one will open in Dublin, the nation’s capital. The minister said that once that location is appraised, others will also launch. He explained the centers’ methods will vary because “every city is different, every drug-using population is different, so different locations will have different needs.”
Ó Ríordáin also said he would outline plans to decriminalize all drugs — including heroin, cocaine, and cannabis — for personal use, but said he would leave the implementation of that plan to the next administration. He has been clear about his stance on the drug war since he took office in April of this year. At that time, he expressed immediate concern over the prohibition of marijuana and called to decriminalize it. Still, he acknowledged the need for conversation.“We need to have a proper discussion before we set off alarm bells in people’s heads,” he said. Six months later, his Monday announcement is facilitating that discussion.
Other nations around the world have decriminalized drugs with great success. Portugal did so over a decade ago and saw reduced rates of crime and addiction. Though decriminalization in the United States is a long ways away, American police have begun offering treatment to heroin addicts rather than arresting them. Officers around the country are reporting great success. Further, last year, Uruguay fully legalized marijuana, and many other countries already allow the use of the plant in varying capacities.
As Ó Ríordáin said of Ireland, there is “strong consensus that drugs across the board should be decriminalized.”
This fundamental, evolving attitude toward the way drug addicts should be treated underlies increasing global calls for decriminalization. A recent U.N. report suggested decriminalization as a humanitarian strategy to help treat addiction, though controversy surrounded the paper and the U.N. stressed the suggestion did not constitute official policy. Nevertheless, the fact that the organization published a report echoing those sentiments is evidence enough that the conversation is changing.
Ó Ríordáin explained:
“This will be a wider discussion under the next government but once people get their head around the argument, about what decriminalization actually means, that policy won’t be about the drug but about the individual. Then regardless of the drug the individual needs an intervention and society will be saying, ‘the substance is illegal, but you are not a criminal for taking it.’”
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