Most communities show concern about discarded needles and other drug paraphernalia. It is quite understandable; drug litter is a clear sign of increasing social and economic decline, generally associated with increasing violent and other crime rates, of antisocial behaviour and of the neighbourhood disquiet that goes hand in hand with the threat of crime. Communities lucky enough to have sufficient police resources to make a visible police presence will find the ‘problem’ driven deeper underground, into public and private housing, alleyways, parks and gardens etc, often peaking in night time hours when policing resources are most limited.
Neighbourhoods decline in status and value, property prices fall, and social housing becomes increasingly unpopular so dereliction increases. A vicious circle is created from which recovery is seemingly impossible. But despite this, many agencies do work hard to deal with the immediate and the underlying problems, of safety and health. It is not easy, and is often not pleasant, so we must thank all of those who make their own mark in this work.
Communities will often ‘demand’ heavy handed action by Police and other agencies to drive drug taking from ‘their’ streets. Local newspapers join the call and fill many column inches reminding everyone how bad it is. But driving these problems from the streets is likely only to drive the problem further underground, but not eliminate it. It may then become yet more difficult to manage, or spread elsewhere. It may disappear, but it won’t be solved.
Few would support the creation of safe drug injection facilities, unless perhaps they were created in someone else’s community, though they have proved invaluable in some areas. And the placement of secure sharps bins in public toilets and other hot spots is frequently resisted. These are seen as giving in to IV drug users, using public money to support those who may have little place in society. But something has to be done and it is inevitable that capturing some, if not all, used sharps into sharps bins reduced drug litter and prevent disease through needle sharing.
The Cork Evening Echo reports of ‘Heroin needle bins in city toilets’ , describing this new measure to deal with an increasingly common problem seriously affecting almost every city in Ireland. It’s a good piece, accurately reporting the reasons behind decisions to place the bins in needle hotspots without condemnation or whipping up a storm of protect. But describing sharps bins as ‘heroin bins’ might just raise the hackles of the wider community who may find this a step too far. Let’s hope not.