Drug use in Dublin is a reality that we are all faced with on a daily basis.
Whether it's seeing a loved one battle with addiction or witnessing the debris on our streets as we walk to work each morning, there's no doubt that we've arrived at a situation that requires immediate, effective action.
The decision to introduce supervised injection centres has widely been seen as a major step forward in the battle against drug use in our city but there are still many questions and concerns over how these facilities will be implemented.
Tony Duffin, CEO of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, explains why there's nothing to fear but plenty to gain from the move...
“Of all the things I could become, a lonely drug user isn’t one which I would’ve wished for when I was young.”
So begins the poem I have hung on the wall above my desk.
It’s an important point we all should remember, nobody chooses to be afflicted with addiction.
Over the years, people have said to me that people choose to put 'this rubbish' into their bodies.
However, having worked for 24 years with people who use drugs, and who have complex and multiple needs, I can say that this isn’t the case.
The people we work with take drugs for different reasons, but one thing they all share is the feeling that intoxication is better than their current reality.
In Dublin, Ana Liffey has identified that there are at least 400 people who inject drugs on multiple occasions in public spaces in any given month.
However, because of the secretive nature of public injecting, we believe this number could be much higher. People who inject drugs in this manner are at an increased risk of infection and death.
Seeing, on a daily basis, the damage that injecting drugs does to the people we know and help is distressing. Through consultation, we realised that our concerns are shared and that nobody is happy about the situation - not the people who inject drugs in public, not the local residents, not the local businesses, the Gardaí, nor the politicians.
People who live, work or visit the areas where street-based drug injecting occurs also may feel intimated and disturbed by what they witness in their locality.
It is over 30 years since the initial heroin crisis of the early 1980s and people have, at this stage, gotten their heads around the fact that the problem of public injecting is not going away.
Unfortunately, we have a very serious drug problem in Ireland and the only way to tackle this is through increasingly progressive drug policies.
We can't hide from this; we need to better manage drug use in society to reduce individual and social harms and better manage our resources.
One major step was taken towards this recently when plans for supervised injecting facilities were given the green light.
On 20 January 2012, the then Lord Mayor of Dublin Andrew Montague launched the Ana Liffey Drug Project’s Strategic Plan 2012 – 2014.
Two of the goals defined within this plan related to securing support for and establishing a supervised injecting facility in Dublin City.
This public statement of intent was the first step on a long journey towards the implementation of supervised injecting in Ireland, with strong evidence from Australia, Canada and other jurisdictions showing that these facilities prevent fatal overdoses.
I’m happy to say that the provision of supervised injecting facilities is now Government policy.
On 16th May, President Michael D. Higgins enacted the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities) Bill 2017 - five years, three months and 27 days after we began lobbying, with others, for such services.
I do understand supervised injecting is counter-intuitive to some people, but the evidence is very clear. Supervised injecting facilities improve the areas that they are established in, they save lives, they keep people healthier, they move people through to treatment and rehabilitation faster and they save money for the taxpayer.
Most importantly, they meet the needs of a hard to reach group of people (that existing services have failed to reach) in a meaningful way.
So, what comes next?
The next step is for the HSE to identify a service provider and a location, and this will happen very soon. Once the location is identified, any concerns in the local area will need to be responded to.
One concern that has already been raised is that some people struggle to understand how supervised injecting facilities are policed.
While it will not be a crime to be in possession of drugs at these licensed facilities, possession of drugs will remain illegal outside of such premises. So how will people walk to and from these facilities whilst being in possession of drugs?
The reality is that this question has been considered many times over in many different jurisdictions. It is handled to good effect in Sydney, in Vancouver, in Paris and in many other cities across Europe and I'm sure the situation will be no different here.
In my experience, An Garda Siochana have a genuine understanding of the interaction between health and criminal justice in the context of drugs in modern Ireland. I am sure that the legislation has been considered in detail by senior Gardaí, and I have no doubt that its members will police these facilities both effectively and appropriately in the context of this new legislation.
Supervised injecting facilities will save lives and save money for the taxpayer. Ultimately, they will reduce street-based injecting, improve the areas they are established in and keep us all safer from harm – and that's something we should all be on board with.