Belfast Telegraph

Key adviser warns of missed opportunities in new drug abuse strategy

A key adviser on the G overnment's new approach to drug abuse has warned of missed opportunities in the strategy.

A report on decriminalising possession of small quantities of drugs is to be filed in the next 12 months as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called for users and addicts to get a second chance.

The eight-year strategy on drug and alcohol use also includes a commitment for a pilot injecting room for heroin users in Dublin, better help for pregnant women suffering substance abuse, more detox beds and increased testing of drugs.

But Tony Geoghegan, of Merchants Quay Ireland, who worked on the strategy for the community and voluntary sector, said some of the initiatives lack deadlines and tangible commitments.

He also said some of the headline reforms do not go far enough.

"The biggest concern I have about it is the implementation and the lack of very clear targets," he said.

"It talks about enhancing and increasing access to services, without any targets or time frames in them - by what stage are we going to have this?"

Seven drug liaison midwives will be hired on the back of the strategy.

Experts will assess how many in-patient beds are needed for addicted pregnant and postnatal women.

The report called for amnesty bins, more needle exchanges, more screening and treatment for blood-borne viruses and communicable diseases and to get more users to take up hepatitis C treatment.

Overdose treatment naloxone should be given to addicts, their peers, and family members, the report said.

And gardai should focus more on drug developments, including markets on the dark net.

Mr Geoghegan welcomed some initiatives but said about 50 new detox beds are needed and there should be more than one so-called "fix room" for heroin users to inject under medical supervision. He said it would stop users travelling to a single location in the city.

"There are a large number of people sleeping rough, they are the cohort we are really targeting with this," he said.

"But I think just having one is a mistake. It's another lost opportunity."

Government advisers will look at how decriminalisation - previously recommended by the Oireachtas Justice Committee - played out in other jurisdictions.

One of those is Portugal, where people found with drugs are dealt with by a social worker, psychiatrist and a lawyer.

The country has seen fewer people overdosing, a reduction in new HIV cases and more people getting addiction treatment.

The report for Government will look at loosening the law for offences involving possession of small quantities of illegal substances based on a three-strike policy.

The Taoiseach launched the strategy and said it was about bringing a more compassionate and humane approach to users.,

" I firmly believe we should do all we can to remove obstacles to rehabilitation and barriers that prevent people from changing," he said.

Pat Doyle, chief executive of the Peter McVerry Trust, described the new approach as significant but called for the money to back it up in the next budget.

"It offers the potential to achieve a major shift in how we view and respond to the issues relating to drugs and the individuals and communities that are impacted by them," he said.

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