Monday, October 15, 2007

OUTSIDE POLITICS - Methadone and Shooting Up

I have a huge difficulty with pharmacists using poor and vulnerable people like recovering drug addicts in their dispute with the HSE over the claw-back scheme.

The number of former heroin addicts affected is between 3,000 to 5,000. Now there are valid debates about the efficacy of methadone as a replacement therapy - it creates its own dependency. As I write, I am listening to a vox pop on RTE Radio 1's 'News at One'.

One guy has been using it for 11 years. Be that as it may, they are used to getting their dose at a particular time and a few spoke about being 'sick' when they have to wait longer. Instead of getting their prescriptions in their local pharmacies, methadone users have to go to 11 methadone dispensing centres.

Whatever the drawbacks of methadone, it's better than heroin, and with the State (rather than criminals) administering the scheme, many of the massive negatives (which include fatalities; assaults; homicides; overdoses; shoplifting; street prostitution; infection and burglary) are avoided.

This was borne home to me this morning as I cycled into work. There's a laneway that connects the entrance of Dublin Castle to South Great Georges Street in Dublin. Three heroin addicts, who also looked like they were homeless, were openly shooting up. There were two older guys. One of them was preparing the syringe. The second was tying a belt or tourniquet around the upper arm of the third person. These two guys were older. What was shocking was the third addict. He was a child, a boy who looked like he was 12 or 13 and was certainly no older than 14 or 15.

Jesus, that literally stopped me in my tracks. I brought the bike to a halt and watched the whole sorry ceremony unfold. I wanted to tell the two older guys; look you are helping a child shoot up there. Do you know that you're making him into a goner? But the kid had clearly shot up before and I guessed (but it was also partly motivated by being too scared to intervene)that nothing I would say would make the slightest whit of difference.

I have seen junkies shoot up before; and in front of babies and young toddlers. But seeing a child so young shooting up just shocked me to the core.

Politically, Aengus O Snodaigh of Sinn Fein was the only to react strongly to this development today. At a very sparsely attended media event on the plinth of Leinster House (i.e. myself and nobody else) he said: "This is a life and death issue. It's the poorest in society who are the most affected by this."

Which it is. And none are more vulnerable than children who are poor and who are on the margins.


Dan Sullivan said...

It is a crazy idea but I would be inclined toward legalising heroin for people who register as addicts and provide dedicated accommodation for them where assistance would be available for them to try and get them off it, we could have difference places for people in different stages of recovery. The money this would cost would be much less than that we spend on drug enforcement and also the losses, financial and personal to people through petty crime.

Of course we couldn't and shouldn't do this if every other developed nation doesn't go along with it but I think we have a problem with dealing with drug usage as a moral issue when it is a public health issue.

Harry McGee said...

I totally agree with you Dan. You need consensus and cooperation. Zurich adopted a very liberal approach to hard drugs about 10 years ago and suddenly found itself deluged with junkies who were shooting up everywhere.
If you wanted to research the pros and cons of it, the net isn't great. Lots and lots of info. But it's low grade stuff, very little that would help you make a qualified judgment about legalising drugs, starting needle exchanges, making drugs like heroin available by prescription.
I'm haunted by that young kid today. A lot of the work of political hacks is in the goldfish bowl of Leinster House.

Frances said...


I am so glad and yet so sad to read that Aenghus O'S is the only politician decrying this. And that you seem to be the only journo on this story. I had one of those "ashamed to be Irish" moments when I heard what the pharmacists were doing. Heroin addicts are so vulnerable and not just because of their drug abuse, but all that goes with it. To pick on them like this is inexcusable. I have already had a belly full of the hyprocrisy that goes with this issue living as I do in that part of West Dublin which is now represented by the up and coming Deputy Varadkar.

Anonymous said...

I myself am one of those people affected by this dispute. I have been on a methadone maintenence program the past 8years. It was hard at the beginning but I gradually settled in and it was the most positive step I had taken! I gave my doctor supervised urines every week, edventually when my doctor knew that I was clean from drugs he put me on take-aways, which meant I only had to go the pharmacy once a week. This was because I was doing well! Now with this dispute it's awful, I feel like I'm back at square one. I've already been asked (the very day the strike started) did I want herion! I used to collect my methadone early on a Tuesday morning then I would do my shopping, collect the children from school etc, now I have to do all that while feeling "sick". I will receive my methadone but not until after 7.00PM tonight! Which is not much good to me as I'm in bed by 9.00PM. I just hope Mary O'Harney know's exactly what she is getting herself into here! I might be one of the strong one's able to resist Herion, but not as many recovering addicts are that strong! Please bring this strike to an end it's only affecting the most vunerable in society!