Simply searching for the phrase “don’t take me drugs away” on YouTube will yield, upon the first result, a humorous and simultaneously dispiriting video. In it we see a dishevelled Dubliner with a threadbare acoustic accompaniment bothering (or entertaining) commuters on a city bus.
One can hardly doubt his sincerity and self-effacement as he drawls lyrics, occasionally obscene and consistently agonising, that detail the grotesque pains of prescription drug withdrawal. Laughing at misfortune is vital, but the hell that awaits any serious addict upon the sudden cessation of the substance they abuse is clearly evoked here. Watch the video yourself, look up the lyrics, I doubt you’ll disagree.
Now it seems almost certain that the Irish Government, through its National Drug Strategy, is set to bring about radical changes in the policies affecting this man and his unfortunate kind. These include the decriminalisation of ‘personal use’ quantities of drugs such as heroin and cocaine, as well as the opening of clinics in which addicts can inject in a controlled environment with access to clean equipment and counselling and rehab programs. This remarkable sea-change follows a report compiled by a government committee which in part examined the effects similar legislation had in Portugal, finding that it was instrumental in significantly reducing the levels of drug misuse which plagued it fifteen years ago.
Not that one needs the example of Portugal to imagine the potential benefits to Irish society; for one thing, the clinics would serve to immediately reduce the instances of street injection and therefore also the perils of contaminated needles and drug-related violent crime. Furthermore, decriminalisation opens channels towards rehabilitation, removing the looming threat of prosecution which prevents many addicts from embracing the institutions supposed to help them. I shouldn’t also need to mention that the sudden cessation of certain drugs, for reasons which often involve the law, quite simply kills.
Thus in applauding these prospective changes, I draw on both compassion and practicality: if the aforementioned video makes you feel as well as laugh, and you have the eyes in your head to observe the benefits this approach brought elsewhere, then you will welcome the shift.