The conversation around drugs in Ireland needs to change. When drugs are mentioned as news pieces on RTÉ, the focus is always on the amount of drugs seized, their monetary value and the people arrested for their possession, all highlighting the crime aspect of drugs. There is a culture in Ireland that if you take drugs, you have made the conscious decision to do so, and you are solely responsible for the consequences.

From an early age, people are first introduced to the dangers of drug use in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) classes when teachers advise the often disinterested students to steer clear of drugs and the people who offer them. Drugs are bad, end of story. The only time drugs come up in the curriculum is when being discussed for the physical and effects it has on the brain, how it interacts with the reward centre and the deterioration of grey matter through prolonged use.

SPHE classes warn about the dangers of peer pressure and how that leads to drug use and addiction; but what about personal circumstances of the user, such as homelessness or bereavement? Not everyone takes drugs to feel great a party, some people take them to get through the day.

Little airtime is given to the stories of people suffering from drug addiction and the real-world routines of those who continue to use drugs or who are seeking to beat their addiction. The circumstances that lead people to choose drugs are rarely discussed, even rarer are the personal cases that are mentioned in reports on the drug policy and responses. People sometimes do not realise that behind every statistic is a person. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published the Ireland Drug Report 2018, which showed data from 2016 on the “overview of the drug phenomenon in Ireland, covering drug supply, use and public health problems as well as drug policy and responses.” Key findings of the report show that in 2015, there was 224 deaths caused by drug overdose, with approximately 50 cases of HIV diagnosis attributed to injecting. The report also found that while there were just under 4,000 offences in Ireland in 2016, for the supply of drugs, there were over 11,000 offences of drug use or possession of drugs, further showing the disparity between what we are taught to view drugs as a crime and the reality of the number of people you self-medicate on drugs. Drug dealers are a very serious problem in Irish society, who prey on and take advantage of people, and there needs to be tighter restrictions and harsher sentences passed for distributing drugs, but they cannot and should be painted with the same brush as people you take drugs for themselves and do not intend to supply them to other people for profit.

There are groups that raise awareness of the realities of addiction and aim to help those who make the decision to become drug-free. Merchants Quay Ireland is an organisation that provides informational services for people taking drugs to minimise the risk, as well as detox and recovery services for people wishing to quit altogether. Equipped with the a medically supervised injecting facility as well as 14-week fully residential rehabilitation programme, it places people’s experience with drugs at the forefront of the care, without judgement.

In UCD, the Students for Sensible Drug Policy work to inform students of drug-related issues, such as “what’s in the pill?” so they have the best information at hand to make a decision on whether or not to take drugs. The group hold open conversations around drug use in an attempt to de-stigmatise the reality of the situation for many people in university.

If you or someone you know is currently battling addiction and would like to seek help, below is the contact information for different organisations in Dublin:

Merchants Quay Ireland (01) 524 0160

HSE Drugs & Alcohol Helpline 1800 459 459

St Patrick’s Mental Health Services for Empowering Recovery (01) 249 3333