The Drugs Debate Continues

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This week’s lead story and Focus story on News 6 focuses on the drugs issue which, sadly, has become a very visible and regular part of city centre life over the past 18 months. The vice of drug addiction has been a long-term feature of homelessness and while it is not the predominant factor in our current homeless crisis, it cannot be discarded from part of a wider social debate. There are a myriad of factors as to why men and women end up in such a difficult position with drugs, alcohol or both – far too many to mention in this particular contribution.

The life of addict is astoundingly sad and it appears that we as a county remain largely ill-prepared when it comes to providing for out reach facilities and sheltered housing for those who are vulnerable.At present, Waterford appears to be attracting people in difficulty from outside the city and county who come here to buy and use drugs. And, as Shane Dunphy told us this week, we should be trying to rehabilitate such people and provide actions and housing programmes for them. Last week, we read reports of further overdoses in public places. We ourselves saw youths openly offering syringes in the city centre – and not for the first time. Is enough being done to treat people and get them off the ill-advised track they remain on? We really need to see some action on this front and we need to hear more from the Government on this issue. We need more solutions and less proposals.

Creating sheltered housing with resident therapists and nurses on call would be a welcome first step. Courses and hobbies to help addicts to stay off drugs and focus their minds on positive pursuits are also required: be it gardening, physical work for the community, art and music can all divert attention and help re-energise service users. However, trained supervision is needed for such programmes.Such work could be an area that Samaritans and Pieta House could play a role in, given their expertise in establishing the links between drink, drugs and suicidal ideation. There is also a good argument for suggesting that a new or one particular State funded charity could commit to such vital work. Some great strides have been taken in the UK by ex-addicts who know how to communicate with users, but this would of course require support funding from the HSE.
A debate on drugs is worth having because the problem is not going away any time soon.

As a society, we cannot give up on our most vulnerable and one hopes that this week’s coverage demonstrates that while drug use and addiction is a crime that needs cracking, we’re also talking about people here: people who require support, supervision and compassion. Hoping that they can make something of their lives is an aspiration worth championing. And if the State can play a role in this, then that should also be promoted.

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