Limerick cafe owner calls for injection centres to tackle on-street drug use

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A LIMERICK cafe owner has said drug injecting centres should be considered for Limerick to tackle on-street drug use in the Treaty City.

Paul Williams, owner of ‘Canteen’ located on Catherine Street, said he regularly finds needles and drug paraphernalia on a side street adjacent to his cafe.

Mr Williams said he purchased a rubbish picker from a local hardware store and uses this to remove needles, burnt tinfoil, spoons, along with other associated drug paraphernalia.

“It happens all the time, there’s drug use in the lane. It happens every couple of weeks, where someone uses the lane to inject heroin,” Mr Williams said.

“Sometimes there’d be spoons for burning heroin or sometimes there are needles. This time I found about eight or nine needles,” he explained.

Paul Williams, Proprietor of Canteen, Catherine Street.

Asked if he was in favour of injecting centres, such as what was proposed in Dublin, he said: “I think I would. Whatever drug policies we have don’t seem to have stopped people taking drugs.”

“From what I know of the research around (injection centres), it seems that drug users would be healthier or are at least in contact with (services) and they might sign up to methadone programmes.”

“The drug problem isn’t going away, users get sick and they’re in A+E, and, it’s obviously a problem for the city centre when people come in and they see drug users around; it looks bad for the city centre,” he added.

Mr Williams tweeted alongside photographs of needles he found in a lane beside his cafe: “We surely need safe injection spaces for drugs users in the city. It is the ‘rubbish’ in the lanes every day, very unsafe.”

Last month the Ana Liffey drug project in Limerick, which provides a needle exchange programme for clients, revealed it was also distributing “crack pipes”, in a bid to stop clients using unhygienic tools.

The city has seen an increase in people using crack cocaine, according to local drugs sources. In the first six months of this year Gardaí have seized €1.2 million drugs including more than €600,000 worth of cocaine.

Presently, a bag of heroin or a rock of crack cocaine can be purchased in Limerick for €15, according to Ana Liffey’s chief executive Tony Duffin.

And, for the first time in the state, more people are presenting for treatment for cocaine use than for cannabis, according to latest data drugs trends published in July by the Health Research Board.

Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan.
Photo: Mark Condren

Limerick Sinn Fein TD, Maurice Quinlivan, who is also a director at the Mid West Regional Drugs and Alcohol Taskforce (MWRDTF), said Ireland should have injection centres, and it should also follow Portugal’s lead who decriminalise drugs in 2001, so that drug abuse is treated as a “health issue”.

Portugal has seen dramatic decreases in fatal overdoses, HIV infection, and drug-related crime, Deputy Quinlivan said.

“We have to be realistic that drug misuse in Limerick is a massive problem, it’s very visible. I think anyone opposed to injection centres is living with their head in the sand. Unfortunately, we have to deal with the reality of the situation,” the Limerick TD said.

“There isn’t a single day you don’t walk down the street in Limerick and you don’t see somebody taking drugs,” he added.

Mr Quinlivan continued, “open sale of drugs in the city has been exposed throughout the Covid-19 lockdown period, and people who didn’t even realise what was going on in their local areas, are well aware of what is happening now”.

Gardai “have done a good job with the limited resources they have”, he said, but that “a radical change” was needed in “how we tackle drugs”.

“I believe the situation is critical,” Mr Quinlivan said.

Fine Gael Limerick City and County Councillor Daniel Butler, who is also a drugs counsellor in Limerick, said he supported the “Portuguese model”, but he said he disagreed with the idea of having injection centres in Limerick.

“I don’t think right now we have a need for injection centres in that we have really good services locally that have strong relationships with users. People that are going to use in the street like that probably always will do, even if you have injection centres,” Mr Butler said.

The drugs problem is “incredibly complex”, and he praised local services including Ana Liffey, Novas, as well as the Limerick Drug’s Coordination Office.

Public needles bins

Mr Butler said a “drug paraphernalia programme” was active in Limerick, whereby drug workers and local authority staff were trained up in a “disposal programme”.

He said the MWRDTF have sought help from the Council “to provide public needle bins” in Limerick.

Daniel Butler, Fine Gael. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

“They’re in Cork, in known locations for drug use. The idea is to encourage people to dispose of their needles in these bins and the bins are disposed of safely.”

“What works well in Limerick is the relationships with users. If you remove (drugs) from the criminal realm and put it into the health realm you can build relationships with users, and you’ve a better chance of reducing harm to them and you have a better chance of helping them into recovery,” he said.

“Otherwise, you’re just creating a cycle, where people who are vulnerable are being criminalised and being made more vulnerable, and you have less of a chance of engaging with them and getting them into recovery and getting them back functioning in society.”

“What you end up doing is sending them off into a cycle from which, very often, they never turn back from.”