Politicians slam Government moves to criminalise unauthorised possession of prescription medicines

By Maurice Garvey

NEW legislation making “unauthorised possession” of prescription medicines for on-street trading a criminal offence, will criminalise addiction and not tackle the real problem, according to local representatives working in addiction services.

Sinn Féin councillor Mark Ward, who has worked for many years in frontline addiction services, feels the measures announced by Health Minister Simon Harris are “reactionary”.

Lynn Ruane and Mark Ward collage July 2016

Cllr Ward said: “Misuse of prescription medication is not a new problem, however there is a very visible increase of street dealing prescribed medication.”

“One concern I have is that this legislation will target the low-level street dealer and criminalise addiction. In Ireland addiction is treated by the Department of Health, but issues surrounding addiction such as street dealing is managed by the Department of Justice.”

Ward has called for the HSE to clamp down on back-street chemists and GPs, who he says, fuel the drug culture.

Cllr Ward continued: “The HSE needs to have better controls over what and why GPs prescribe certain drugs. It is commonplace for addicts to walk into a GP and get a prescription for a month’s supply of Valium, Zimmovane and Lyrica for €50, walk into a pharmacist and get the drugs for another €50.

"The street value for these drugs would be over €200. That’s over 100 per cent profit. The HSE needs to clamp down on doctors who are part of this culture.”

Tallaght Senator Lynn Ruane, who also works with addicts, said the legislation would do nothing to “dismantle drug trade at the top level”, and described the move as a “reaction to make it look like we’re doing something.”

Both Ruane and Ward fear it will lead to clogged up courts and jails.

Cllr Ward said he would welcome the legislation if addicts were “directed into treatment programmes rather than the judicial system.”

He said: “The courts are backlogged. More money for drug treatment and for drugs task forces is needed. Government policy needs to start getting pro-active instead of reactive.”

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