Ireland lacks ‘political will’ for radical solutions on drug addiction

Ireland lacks 'political will' for radical solutions on drug addiction

Incremental reforms to drugs laws in Ireland have arguably resulted in “little or no practical change” and there is a “lack of political will to implement more radical solutions”, according to a new report.

The Working To Decriminalise People Who Use Drugs report describes how five different jurisdictions — Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Poland and the US state of Maine — have moved away from treating drug use as a criminal issue.

The Ana Liffey Drug Project commissioned the Scottish Drugs Forum to undertake the evaluation and draw up the report, supported by funding from the Open Society Foundation.

The report explores the situation in each of the five jurisdictions and the lessons from the success of different projects and initiatives which have helped implement change and progress decriminalisation. The report shares the perspectives and roles of advocates, politicians, police and the media.

The report is based on interviews with stakeholders in each jurisdiction and international experts from across substance use, health, justice, research and policy fields. The process also involved a review of research and an analysis of media coverage and public attitudes toward drug use and decriminalisation.

In Ireland, the report notes there has been some success in “reframing drug use as a health issue”, but noted that drug consumption rooms had been “kicked into the long grass” after the enactment of the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities) Act 2017. No such facilities have been established since the legislation was approved.

It also notes that Ireland’s “three-strikes” adult cautioning scheme “will continue to criminalise people after their third possession offence, therefore policy continues to target individuals most likely to have police interaction because of their contextual circumstances (e.g., poverty, homelessness, inability to stop using drugs)”.

“Arguably this kind of ‘incremental reform’ has resulted in little or no practical change, while co-opting an image that policing has reformed, that drug policy has changed, and that further reforms are therefore unnecessary,” the report states.

Katy MacLeod from the Scottish Drugs Forum, the principal researcher on the project, said: “This report shows that people understand decriminalisation to include a variety of measures. These range from alternatives to punishments like fines and imprisonment; diversion to health interventions or treatment; to drug possession no longer being a criminal offence at all.

“To make progress on decriminalisation, policy makers, the media and the general public need to be fully informed and have a shared understanding of what the specifics of any policy change are and the impact for individuals and society as a whole.

“It is clear from the findings that there is an appetite across people working in health, police, policy-makers and indeed wider society, to end the criminalisation of people and thereby reduce further and harm to individuals.”

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