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In-Depth Coverage Of The Irish And European Markets

Citizen Assembly on Drug Use: Review June 23

Citizen assebly logo with headline Citizen Assembly Review June 23

The urgent need for drug reform and progressive policies took center stage at the third sitting of the Citizen Assembly on Drugs, where Paul Reid, the Chair of the assembly, delivered a compelling opening address. With a strong voice, Reid emphasised the critical nature of the issue, stressing that each passing day brings loss of life. He called upon the assembly members to strive for decisive action in their forthcoming report, highlighting the societal impact of inaction.

During the session, the Health Research Board (HRB) presented an eye-opening analysis of drug-related deaths, providing updated figures for 2020. The presentation revealed stark statistics on overdoses in Ireland, with overdose rates steadily increasing year after year. This alarming trend necessitates immediate attention and underscores the urgency of implementing effective measures to address the root causes of drug-related harm.

Moreover, the HRB shared insights on non-poisoning deaths related to drug use, revealing that approximately 50% of these deaths involved the presence of cannabis in the individuals' systems. It is important to note that this statistic does not imply cannabis as the cause of death but rather its incidental presence. However, the precise implications of cannabis in these cases were left unclarified, leaving room for interpretation among the assembly members.

Jim Walsh, a senior official from the Department of Health, took the floor to present the department's health-led strategy for addressing drug use. Walsh made it clear from the outset that he was not outlining the department's stance on the next drug strategy, but rather offering insights and perspectives to enrich the ongoing discussions. Notably, Walsh had previously expressed reservations about adopting a Portugal-style decriminalization framework in Ireland, despite several Oireachtas reports recommending this approach.

In line with the growing consensus on inclusivity, Walsh stressed the importance of involving individuals with lived experiences of drug use in shaping drug policies. He echoed the sentiment of "nothing about us without us," emphasizing that their voices should be at the forefront of this conversation. This position contrasted with the experience of Crainn, an organization advocating for drug policy reform, which was informed by the Department of Health that non-problematic drug users would not be included in policy discussions or represented on the national oversight committee for the country's drug strategy.

Walsh concluded his presentation by urging the assembly members to consider the government's diversion scheme, which aimed to emulate Portugal's model of decriminalization without making changes to the legal status of drugs. This alternative approach seeks to divert individuals away from the criminal justice system and towards appropriate health and support services.

To shed light on successful drug policies, the assembly welcomed Dr. Nuno Capaz, a Portuguese expert who provided valuable insights into Portugal's approach. Dr. Capaz highlighted Portugal's focus on consensus-building, evidence-based decision-making, and prioritization of health in their policy deliberations. Portugal's decriminalization policy, clearly enshrined in law, ensures clarity and minimizes confusion in its implementation. The country has made significant investments in programs, treatment, prevention, and harm reduction measures to address drug-related issues comprehensively.

During the Q&A session, Dr. Capaz emphasized the importance of education in addressing drug use. He argued against the "just say no" approach, asserting that it fails to yield desired results and merely creates the illusion that the government is taking action. Portugal has implemented various education and awareness campaigns, targeting different segments of the population and tailoring messages to specific groups and demographics.

The engaging discussions and thought-provoking presentations at the assembly have further intensified the call for urgent drug reform and proactive cannabis policies. These deliberations challenge traditional approaches, advocating for evidence-based, health-centred strategies that prioritise harm reduction, prevention, and inclusive dialogue with individuals directly affected by drugs.

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