Supervised injection sites to open?

22.05.2020 - 11:40
Mynd með færslu
 Mynd: RUV
Alþingi this week passed a new bill on supervised injection sites at the end of the bill’s third reading. The new law allows municipalities to apply for Directorate of Health licences to open spaces for drug addicts to inject in safe, controlled surroundings. It is not yet clear whether any municipalities will choose to set up such spaces.

It is believed there are around 700 people in Iceland who regularly inject illegal drugs. Supervised injection sites are intended for vulnerable drug users aged over 18 and their goal is to limit the damage caused by drug addiction. 

Research and experience in neighbouring countries suggests that 25-40 people would use supervised injection sites in Iceland. Overseas experience with such facilities has been good. They promote better mental and physical health among users, reduce the number of needles found discarded in public places, and reduce the number of new HIV and hepatitis infections.  

The original bill underwent only minor changes in committee, centred mainly on making sure neutral, non-prejudicial language was used, and clarifying the clause that would allow municipalities to hand control of injection sites to social welfare organisations such as the Icelandic Red Cross. 

Ólafur Þór Gunnarsson, MP for Vinstri grænir (the Left Greens) and speaker of the Alþingi welfare committee, says that while no municipality will be made to open a supervised injection site, he believes at least one will open before the end of this year. “In reality, the approval of this bill is the first step in the direction of travel of decriminalising drug use. That is to say, not making those who use drugs and are maybe having trouble with their drug use, to not make that a criminal act and therefore maybe hinder them seeking help. This is the first step.” 

Heiða Björg Hilmisdóttir, a Reykjavík city councillor for Samfylkingin (the Social Democrats) and chair of the city welfare council, says she is not as optimistic as Ólafur Þór: “Something big would have to happen for us to open a supervised injection space in Reykjavík this year, unfortunately, because we would like to see that happen.” 

The new law states that responsibility for injection sites will fall to municipalities; a point that was jointly protested by the municipalities of Reykjavík, Mosfellsbær, Kópavogur, and Akureyri during the consultation phase. 

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