By Patrick Markey
As the Irish government studies a recommendation suggesting the establishment of an American-style drug court system in Dublin, addiction experts in Ireland are praising the move as a step forward in dealing with the burgeoning heroin problem in Dublin’s young population.
Illegal narcotics have made steady inroads into Ireland. In rural areas, Ecstasy is often replacing marijuana as the drug of choice. And in Dublin, the major substance is heroin. An estimated 8,000 heroin addicts live in the city, although experts say that figure could be higher. Other common drugs include cocaine, LSD and speed.
Experts believe that the introduction of U.S.-style drug courts — which generally sentence criminal addicts to treatment rather than prison — could have a significant impact of the city’s drug-addicted offenders. Although the government has yet to public release a recent report on drug courts, a Justice Department spokesman said the government is in favor of establishing such a system in Dublin, and already memos have been distributed to all government departments regarding the matter.
The justice minister, John O’Donaghue, has suggested that introduction of the drug court system could help reduce costs, help reduce recidivism and drug abuse and also free the courts from the revolving door of continuously sending drug-addicted repeat offenders through the justice system, the spokesman said.
Irish interest in the American-style drug courts began about two years ago when politicians were looking for a suitable way to deal with drug abuse-related crime. Caroline Cooper, a senior researcher at the American University Drug Court Clearing House in Washington, said she had visited Ireland in January of this year as part of a workshop for judges in Ireland on the drug court system.
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Already, Dublin’s Trinity Court is associated with the Drug Treatment Center Board, where judges can refer offenders with drug problems for treatment, said Grainne Kenny, international director for Europe Against Drugs, a Dublin-based non-profit organization dealing with addiction and substance abuse.
At the center, in 1996 a total of 1,347 patients were being treated for heroin addiction. The center offers counseling and detoxification, Kenny said, but more infrastructure was required to combat the problem. But addicts are not sanctioned if they do not attend, as in the drug court system.
"It is something that is very badly needed here. Throwing addicts into prison, with some half-baked treatment, is not going to help, because they still come out addicted," Kenny said.
Educating judges on addiction before setting up any form of drug court or treatment prison based on the American or European model would be the first step, Kenny said. Also having consultants in prisons who can help addicts into a proper program would also go a long way to reducing the chances of another prison term, she added.