Could Ireland implement Portugal’s solution to drug addiction?

Deepansha Banswal

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The number of cases related to drug addiction in Ireland is increasing day by day. While country’s struggle to tackle the situation seems to be never, Portugal has come out in flying colors in handling the drug crisis. If Ireland follow the footsteps of Portugal and implement the latter’s solution such as decriminalising all the drugs, may help the country.

According to the all-Ireland Drug Use Survey, the levels of drug use have increased between 2010-11 and 2014-15. These results are for all the illegal drugs. The reports states that Cannabis is still the highest consumed drug as 27.9 per cent of people between the ages of 15 and 64 have used it and 7.7 per cent of those people took them in the year 2015.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/144152028@N08/33116572983/in/photolist-Ssp6og-4EgnhP-7fJY74-hmdTgb-pGtT3v-6MX7Yk-6DPED4-6DPErz-6k6ZdA-6DPE5e-6k2CwH-33tVwa-oFj2on-6DTPth-cHzsf-6DPEPK-8pRkiS-ddopW7-5tkLVz-7SEhuB-5j9BzH-4DpHao-atBcuJ-7gdwG9-5j9AMX-5j9PGB-yHQvw-2jmYBh-SvBpS-5jdScE-qqrbAc-jV4K7g-CP62e-5j9BJT-5jq4xj-2fbe5x-5je1gm-JV6Ci-7K5qNo-iT9sos-5j9Kg4-7C7nZd-nuUc55-6e3ZYU-5j9EJF-5kF9vX-acURb-xHR3J-5jdZyf-5j9GG2
Drug addiction in Ireland. Credits to stubblepatrol.com (Flickr)

The use of ecstasy has also increased since 2010. The usage of ecstasy increased from 0.9 per cent to 4.4 per cent just in the year 2015. This partly indicates the rapid rise in the usage of drugs in Ireland. While one out of every four men in the age group of 25-34 years was reported to be consuming illegal drugs, one in eight women in the same age group consumed the drugs.

The survey also shows that lifetime usage of cocaine and cocaine powder is at 6.6% and 6.4% respectively. The percentage of respondents aged 15-64 years who reported using cocaine (including crack) at some point in their lives increased from 7% to 8%. The proportion of young adults (15-34) who reported using cocaine in their lifetimes has also increased from 9% to 11%.

It also showed that 14.3% of the population had used sedatives or tranquillisers at least once. Lifetime usage of sedatives or tranquillisers is higher among females than males across all age groups. It has also been reported that there are about 3,000 injecting drug users in Dublin and about 400 of them openly injecting in the city every month.

While the issue of drug addiction affects the lives of those consuming the drugs, it also disturbs others in some way or the other as well. Mr Zafar, Manager of Day-Today-News, a retail shop in Dublin 7, says: “Sometimes dealing with the drug addicts becomes a task as they try to steal a lot and if we try to question them in any way, they would just start abusing us or would even try to hit.”

This situation does not just exist in Dublin, it persists in other parts of the country as well. Mrs Ayesha Wasim, a resident of Mallow, whose neighbour is an addict, says: “At times it gets really difficult for us as the person sometimes creates a havoc. And whenever my children go out to play, I have to keep a close eye on them so that they don’t talk to him.”

According to the EMCDDA, the drug-related death rate in the European Union ranges from around three per million inhabitants per year (Portugal) to more than 120 (Estonia). Ireland stands halfway between these two extremes, with almost four times the overall European Union average. Certain states in the U.S. register up to 300 drug-related deaths per million inhabitants per year.

People have started raising their voice to fight the battle against drug abuse. On April 8, a protest march against heroin dealing was held in Cork. The protest was organised by the 32 County Sovereignty Movement.

But to completely solve problem of drug abuse, Ireland would have to take an action which would finish it absolutely. In order to tackle this problem, Ireland could learn from Portugal’s policies and solve the issue of drug abuse absolutely.

Around 17 years ago, Portugal took a big step and decriminalised the possession of all drugs – the drugs included everything from marijuana to heroin. It is believed that the step that the country took several years ago has paid off. When the country decriminalised the possession of drugs, the people having problems started seeking help. According to a report from Vice News, at least 25 countries have introduced some form of decriminalisation, Portugal’s holistic model and its use of dissuasion panels sets it apart.

When the country had first decriminalised the drugs, everyone had believed that this would increase the number of drug consumers but the opposite happened. Drug use had fallen in Portugal over the past 16 years and this trending has been applied by other countries in Europe as well. It was estimated that 100,000 were heroin users by the late 1990s but around 50,000 of them are now taking treatment for their problem. So, if Ireland also implement the policies used by Portugal, it might help the country in some way.

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Deepansha Banswal