Gary Gannon TD

Nobody can successfully argue that criminalising addicts is the way forward

The so-called war on drugs is essentially a war on poverty, Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon told the Dáil today.

“We’ve known for a long time that a law-and-order response to drug addiction is harmful and counterintuitive. But this Government has so far continued a long and shameful tradition of criminalising those who experience drug addiction and the chaotic lifestyle that accompanies it.

“In effect, the war on drugs has monetised the pain and suffering of those in the throes of addiction. A drug user arrested for possession of a few hundred euros worth of heroin or crack cocaine can end up costing the State hundreds of thousands by dragging them through the legal system and incarcerating them.

“Criminalising addicts demonises them for life and denies them the opportunity of a future career. At the same time, this failed process enriches society’s elite, such as members of the legal profession. The sad reality is that poverty pays – but it does not pay the people who suffer.

“Portugal decriminalised drug use over 20 years ago and instead adopted a health-based approach to addiction. As a result, it has seen a substantial drop in drug deaths, as well as related HIV cases. Significantly, drug injection rates declined, especially among young people and new users.

“Within five years of adopting the policy, Portugal’s drug prevalence rate had fallen below the European average. By comparison, Ireland has the joint highest rate of drug-induced deaths among 16 to 64-year-olds in the European Union.

“With all the international evidence showing that the rate of drug use is not directly affected by harsher punishment of users, nobody can seriously argue that Ireland’s war on drugs is the right way forward.

“However, decriminalisation will fail to make a difference on its own and must be combined with a broader health-based approach to addiction.

“It has been five years since plans for the State’s first medically supervised injecting facility in Dublin’s inner city were announced, yet red tape and bureaucracy have prevented progress on this essential service.”
November 30, 2022

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