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KICKING THE HABIT

Ireland is opening supervised heroin injection centers

AP Photo/Darron Cummings
This goes one step further than clean needle programs.
By Frida Garza
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Ireland, a country with a growing heroin addiction problem, is trying a new solution: medically-supervised heroin-injection centers throughout the country, so addicts won’t inject themselves in public. The initiative is expected to be announced today (Nov. 2) by Ireland’s minister of national drugs strategy, Aodhán Ó Riordáin, and will begin in Dublin next year, followed by Cork, Galway, and Limerick.

That’s big news for Ireland, which had the highest number of heroin users in Europe in 2012, and the third-highest death rate from drugs in Europe in 2011. The country is seeking to transform its drug policies, based on a better understanding how substance abuse affects people; in Riordáin’s announcement today, he is also expected to discuss the decriminalization of small amounts of heroin, cocaine, and cannabis for personal use, according to the Irish Times

Riordáin told the paper the new policies aim to remove drug addition from the criminal justice system. It will still be illegal to sell, distribute, or profit from illicit drugs in Ireland, but addicts will not be considered criminals for using.

Supervised injection sites, new to Ireland, have been launched in Canada and Australia, with some initially promising results. The Ontario HIV Treatment Network found that giving users the option to inject in safe, supervised zones “can lead to reductions in injecting behaviour” (PDF), and increases in patients accessing treatment for addiction.

Injection sites are also a preventative measure: by providing users with clean needles and access to healthcare professionals, hospitals can save costs because they don’t have to treat as many patients for blood-transmitted diseases like HIV down the line.

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