Home > Column: Legislation changes our drugs landscape – but it isn’t a complete solution.

[thejournal.ie] Column: Legislation changes our drugs landscape – but it isn’t a complete solution. (20 Mar 2014)

External website: http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/legislation-change...

Drug dealing IN Dublin City Centre has once again come into sharp focus. Garda operations are currently in force north (Operation Spire) and south (Operation Pier) of the Liffey clamping down on anti-social behaviour. Indeed, anti-social behaviour and a perception of Dublin’s streets as unsafe are a perennial problem in the capital, with drug use and drug dealing often involved.

In this regard, media and public reaction to the Garda operations have largely been positive. However, it is important to recognise that the Gardaí are currently limited in what they can do, since much of the visible drug dealing in Dublin City centre involves benzodiazepines. As the law currently stands, such drugs are exempt from the provisions of section 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, which creates the offence of possession. However, this is set to change – a proposed amendment to existing legislation will, among other things, criminalise possession of such drugs. This means that the Gardaí will be better equipped to address city centre dealing.

What effect will this new legislation have? There is little doubt that it will impact on the circulation of illicit benzodiazepines. In 2010, the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act was introduced, largely in response to rapidly increasing levels of ‘head shop’ drug use. Many addiction services saw a significant decrease in the use of such substances following the introduction of the legislation.

Switching drugs

However, they did not necessarily see a fall-off in numbers, or in the level of need of those attending. For many people who have significant difficulties with drug use, the unavailability of their primary drug of choice will simply result in them switching to a different drug. In fact, many people began using head shop drugs in the first instance because of a drop in heroin supply. Once head shop drugs were restricted via the legislation, and heroin increasingly became available again, there was a shift away from head shop drugs back to the more traditional substances of choice – notably heroin and benzodiazepines.

The point is that for many chronically-addicted people, controlling (or eliminating) the supply of a certain drug does not necessarily result in them quitting drugs – it restricts the use of that drug. In any event, poly-drug use is widespread among people who use drugs, and many people who access addiction services use both heroin and benzodiazepines. Of particular interest in this regard is the reported bumper crop of opium in Afghanistan. According to the UNODC, opium production in Afghanistan rose by 49 per cent in 2013, meaning that there is more raw material for the production of heroin available. Further, it has generally been the case that increased Afghan production of opium translates into a corresponding increase in the availability of heroin on the illicit market throughout Europe.

If the enactment of legislation to increase controls on benzodiazepines coincides with increased heroin availability in Ireland, the natural result may be fewer benzodiazepines and more heroin on the illicit market. This could be problematic. As a general rule in the city centre, heroin is injected and benzodiazepines are swallowed. An increase in heroin use will thus likely lead to an increase in the frequency of injecting behaviours, with all that that brings (unsafe disposal of injecting equipment, blood borne virus transmission, greater risk of overdose, etc). Simply put, this would mean increased risks for everyone.

Repository Staff Only: item control page