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Ireland Takes the Decriminalization Route Toward Harm Reduction

Ireland is taking an interesting approach to harm reduction: decriminalization. Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the minister in charge of Ireland’s National Drugs Strategy is hopeful that the Misuse of Drugs Bill will go into effect early next year. Small personal amounts of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana will be legal for citizens to have. Additionally, a legal and supervised injection room will open up in Dublin, with other cities to follow if all goes well.

“These are clinically controlled environments which aim to engage hard-to-reach populations.” – Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Ó Ríordáin’s goals are to end the stigma of drug addiction, and for people to start seeing it as a health problem. He also wants to provide a safe place for users so that they partake in less risky injection behaviors. These injection rooms are aimed in particular at hard-to-reach populations like the homeless, who would otherwise be using out in the open. The hope is to reduce risk to the users and the public around them.

It will still be illegal to sell, distribute, or profit from drugs, but the possession of an amount for personal use will no longer be a crime. Back in 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs, and although there was an initial spike, long term use has decreased across the board. HIV rates among drug users and drug-induced deaths have both decreased significantly in the 14 years since decriminalization took effect.

This discussion comes in the wake of the leak of documents from The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which request that governments decriminalize all drug use and possession for personal use. Since the leak, a UNODC spokesman has called the documents “neither final nor formal.” Regardless of the documents’ status, it has urged a conversation, and that’s (almost) always a good thing.

What do you think? Is decriminalization a step in the right direction?