Former New South Wales drug cop, Pat Paroz, on why the Dublin injecting room objectors are wrong.
One of Australia’s former top cops has reassured local residents and businesses in Dublin that they have nothing to fear from the city’s first medically Supervised Injecting Facility.
As the ex-Commander of Drug and Alcohol Coordination for New South Wales, Pat Paroz saw first-hand the work being carried out in the Kings Cross area of Sydney by the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre.
“The concerns in Dublin are pretty much the same as they were 18 years ago when the Sydney centre was being proposed,” Paroz tells Hot Press whilst here for a drug policy think tank. “People were worried about the ‘honeypot effect’ of attracting other people with addiction issues to the area, but nine different studies in eleven years prove that it hasn’t happened.
“These are independent studies done by five or six groups with no vested interest in putting a positive spin on things. Antisocial behaviour, more crime, shoppers being frightened away, commercial and residential property prices being adversely effected; none of what people feared has happened.
“One of the things I did when I was appointed to the Commander’s role in 2010 was ask the police who’d been there before me what they thought, and they said the only differences they’d noticed were positive ones. They, along with ambulances services, were regularly getting called to drug overdoses, which often proved to be fatal. That doesn’t happen nearly as regularly now.”
The Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre is policed, says Paroz, like any other Kings Cross business.
“There was no officer sitting there watching the front-door on CCTV or extra patrols driving by. What was established from the start was a strong relationship between the local police, and the management of the centre, which has its own duty security officer, who normally deals with the handful of problems that arise. Everybody had everybody else’s telephone number, so there was no delay in making contact if needed. I used to walk into the clinic for meetings in full uniform, and was greeted warmly by both staff and clients. There was a normalcy about the whole thing.”
Asked whether there was political opposition to the Uniting centre back in the ‘90s, Paroz smiles wryly and says: “I’d definitely have to say ‘yes’. There was a ten-year trial period before the centre was made permanent, so no one, least of all government, was rushing into things. Nowadays, though, you have the Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, talking about it being an asset to the community.”
Indeed, Mayor Clover recently enthused about residents and business operators in Kings Cross “no longer seeing people slumped in doorways, streets and parks. Ambulances no longer get the huge number of callouts, and the emergency department sees very few drug overdoses these days. The City has received fewer complaints from Kings Cross residents and businesses about injecting drug activity and/or discarded equipment, and in fact, we’ve been receiving many letters from residents grateful for its positive effects on local amenity.
“And if we must reduce this to economic terms, another report found - and I quote - that the centre had ‘an overwhelmingly positive outcome in economic terms’.”
Hot Press understands that the legislation necessary for the piloting of Dublin’s first medically Supervised Injecting Facility will be introduced by the Minister for Drugs, Catherine Byrne, by mid-February. Acknowledging that concerns still remain, Tony Duffin, the CEO of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, which has vocally campaigned for such services, says: “Some people struggle to understand how Supervised Injecting Facilities are policed. Particularly as it will not be a crime to be in possession of drugs at these licensed facilities, but 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?” he continues. “The reality is that the question of how to police Supervised Injecting Facilities has been considered many times over in many different jurisdictions. It is done to good effect in Sydney, in Vancouver, in Paris and in many other cities across Europe. I’m sure the situation will be no different here.
“In my experience, An Garda Siochana is an excellent police service with a genuine understanding of the interaction between health and criminal justice in the context of drugs in modern Ireland. I’m sure that the legislation will be considered in detail by senior Gardaí when it is enacted, and I have no doubt that following this consideration its members will police Supervised Injecting Facilities both effectively and appropriately in the context of the legislative framework.”
Pat Paroz admits to “feeling left flat” after being shown around Dublin city-centre last month by Tony Duffin.
“I was really taken aback by the amount of discarded needles and other drug paraphernalia,” he concludes. “It’s as least as serious as the heroin problem we have in Sydney. Injecting rooms aren’t on their own going to solve that, but they will 100% improve the situation and save lives.”