Press Release: New Campaign and Research

8 in 10 Irish adults believe the response to drug use should be health led

Research conducted as part of a of a new campaign to decriminalise people who use drugs found that the majority of Irish adults are in favour of intervention from health professionals when it comes to their loved ones using drugs. The poll, carried out by RED C on behalf of the Ana Liffey Drug Project as part of the #SaferFromHarm campaign to decriminalise people who use drugs, interviewed a random nationally representative sample of 1,007 adults aged 18+ online between 24th and 29th January 2019 in relation to attitudes towards interventions in the case of drug use by a loved one. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results weighted to the known profile of all adults.

Tony Duffin, CEO of Ana Liffey Drug Project, said:

“What this research suggests is that Irish people recognise that an individual’s drug use is a health issue, not a criminal justice issue. When someone realises that a loved one has taken illicit drugs a common response is to worry, be frightened and not know what to do or where to turn. Knowing that their loved one’s behaviour is a crime further compounds the problem and can stop people seeking help. People want to get help from a health professional for their loved one as quickly as possible.”

In 2017, there were 12,201 recorded incidents of possession of drugs for personal use, representing over 72% of all drug offences.

Duffin continued:

“We’ve been criminalising people who use drugs for over forty years now, yet over that period the number of people using drugs has increased dramatically, as has the harm caused by drugs. How we currently respond does not work and needs to change. #SaferFromHarm, the campaign to decriminalise people who use drugs, is calling for the introduction of a fully decriminalised model to be introduced in Ireland. Punishing people for nothing more than their own drug use has failed us, we must now work smarter – in a decriminalised environment drug ‘dealing’ remains in the realm of criminal justice, whilst drug ‘use’ is treated for what it is…a health issue.”

A new coalition of civil society organisations, including CityWide, the National Family Support Network, the Irish Council of Civil Liberties and Ana Liffey Drug Project have come together to highlight the significant harms caused by criminalising people who use drugs. The civil society campaign also has the backing of cross party politicians and a number of high profile individuals.

Welcoming the launch of the campaign, Senator Lynn Ruane said,

“Very often, those criminalised are already facing challenges in their lives and come from backgrounds where opportunities have been limited. Rather than providing services and interventions, people are labelled criminals, adding to the stigma and shame”

Anna Quigley, Co-ordinator of CityWide, a leading advocate for decriminalisation in Ireland said,

“At CityWide, we have seen the dangers and harm that drugs have caused in people’s lives, and we want to make sure that as a society we respond in the best possible way. People who are found to be in possession of drugs for their own use should always be given the opportunity to access support and health services rather than causing them further harm through criminalisation”

The research suggests that approximately half of the population disagree that their loved one should be prosecuted in court or arrested due to their drug use or possession, with a further quarter of respondents unsure about how we should respond in such circumstances. The new coalition is embarking on a campaign to create a space to answer any questions, or address any concerns people may have.

Duffin concluded:

“It is important to remember that decriminalisation is not the same as legalisation or regulation. In a decriminalised system, drugs remain illegal. We just change the way we deal with people who use drugs – treating them as people who require a health intervention, rather than people who deserve to be punished. What we need to do is to bring our response in line with our national drugs policy, which recognises that personal drug use is a health issue, not a criminal justice one”

All findings from the RED C research are available here.

Craig Dwyer