"They’ve never had a death and have intervened in 4,500 overdoses," he tells Hot Press.
"It'd save lives, help get people into treatments, take pressure off A&E departments and benefit the neighbourhoods they're in, because there won't be people shooting up and overdosing down alleyways."
Tony Duffin is highlighting the benefits of the heroin consumption rooms that, with government and cross-party opposition support, will likely be piloted in Dublin this year.
The Director of Dublin’s Ana Liffey Drug Project knows what he’s talking about. In 2015 he went on a fact-finding mission to the Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre, the facility that has been cited as an example of what’s required in Ireland.
“It’s on the main drag directly across the street from King’s Cross Train Station,” he resumes. “There are strip clubs and prostitution, but essentially it’s a retail area. The centre has a shop front; you go into reception and, if you haven’t already, you register your details. There’s a quick assessment and then you can go through to the injection rooms. It’s a very clean, clinical space with eight booths that can accommodate up to 16 people.
“We intervened and saved people’s lives,” he adds. “If you see someone sitting there who’s starting to nod off, you put an oximeter on them and see how much oxygen is in their bloodstream. If it goes below 90, you pump more into them until it returns to normal. That’s all you’ve to dofor most people, but some drop completely and you have to use naloxone and pump oxygen and literally try to get them back. Those people would have been down alleyways and on their own and possibly could’ve died.
“While I was in Sydney I met with police officers, politicians and business owners and without fail everyone said it was better having medically supervised injection centres and even talk about it being their medically supervised injection centre,” Duffin resumes. “The fear is of a honey pot effect and being ‘overrun by addicts’, but there’s very strong evidence to prove that isn’t the case.
“In the 15 years the Sydney centre’s been open, they’ve never had a death and have intervened in 4,500 overdoses. One of the stats that stands out is that they’ve seen an 80% reduction in ambulance call-outs. Drug abusers are often referred to as ‘super utilisers of A&E’ – there’s an average one overdose a day in Ireland – which is an expensive service. If there are less intravenous drug users presenting to A&E you’re obviously saving money.”
While clients in Sydney are free to inject and leave with no questions asked, they’re gently encouraged to access the counselling and other free services offered by the centre.
“If we leave people to inject themselves down the alleyways of Dublin, you’re leaving them to their own devices and the risk of overdose and blood borne viruses is increased. There’s a lot of shame attached to injecting in public, which is a barrier in itself. Remove that barrier and people are far more likely to want to go the treatment and rehabilitation route. They’ll talk to you about having had enough and wanting to get off it.”