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Home > Seanad Debate. National Drugs Strategy: Statements.

[Oireachtas] Seanad Debate. National Drugs Strategy: Statements. (01 Mar 2006)

External website: http://debates.oireachtas.ie/seanad/2006/03/01/000...

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern): I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the Seanad today on the subject of the national drugs strategy.

Sometimes much of Government’s work goes unseen and unnoticed by the general public. Despite the growth and diversity in methods of communication, it is still quite difficult to put our message across in some detail. Today I am happy to discuss what the Government is doing, and wishes to do, to disrupt drugs misuse and to alleviate the problems it causes. Tackling drug misuse is an international issue and is not an easy task. The United Nations Office on Drugs estimates that the value of the global illicit drug market for the year 2003 was over $429 billion, an obscene amount of money when one considers the damage done by illicit drugs. It has been claimed that, after oil and arms, the illegal drug market is the third most profitable in the world. This illustrates the scale of the task we face. The use of drugs, particularly strongly addictive substances such as heroin and cocaine, has numerous social and economic costs. Drug-related deaths, blood-borne disease and other health consequences, are only part of the picture. These costs affect the individual, the family, the community and the State. No country has overcome the drugs problem. Neither the relatively heavy-handed approach of the United States, nor the softer touch of the Netherlands, has resulted in a drug-free population. There are no fully tested models to use; there are no quick and easy answers. Our national drugs strategy, however, which runs until 2008, demonstrates the Government’s commitment to addressing drug misuse proactively and decisively. The strategy’s balanced and complementary focus on reducing drug-related harm, and continued efforts to disrupt the operation of the drug market, are valid policy goals. There are encouraging signs of progress in recent years, whether in the areas of drug seizures, the expansion of treatment services or prevention programmes in schools. The landscape has changed very significantly recently and we must acknowledge the work being done. While there is no room for complacency, it is important that we do no lose sight of the positive developments. We have made solid progress and will continue to do so in the future. The drugs situation is dynamic and changing and our policies need to be flexible to meet those changes. The progress made in recent years is the result of co-operation and partnership. While working in partnership can be difficult at times, we must focus on the fact that working in a united way is more beneficial than taking a fragmented approach. The national drugs strategy addresses several aspects of the problem of drug misuse, namely, supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research. Implementation of the strategy, across a range of Departments and agencies, is co-ordinated by my officials in the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. We launched the strategy in 2001, having recognised that we needed to address the issue of drug misuse across Government, not just through one Department or agency. In doing so it was apparent that we would have little success if we did not work in partnership with communities. We have made considerable progress in implementing the 100 actions set out in the strategy. This is borne out by the review of the strategy, published last year. The review process included a comprehensive public consultation through which we engaged with and listened to communities. The review was overseen by a steering group, chaired by my Department and made up of the relevant Departments and agencies as well as the community and voluntary sectors. It sought to assess the impact and direction of the strategy at its mid-point and concentrated on identifying beneficial adjustments to the strategy. The steering group found that the current aims and objectives of the drugs strategy are fundamentally sound. The review found encouraging signs of progress since 2001 when the strategy was first launched. This suggests that the Government’s current approach to tackling the drug problem is proving to be effective. The review highlighted the need to re-focus priorities and accelerate the roll-out and implementation of various key actions in the remaining period of the strategy up to 2008. In this context, a number of new actions and amendments were identified. Rehabilitation emerged as an important issue during the consultation process. It was felt by many that although there have been significant improvements in treatment provision, a lot more work is needed with regard to rehabilitation. A working group chaired by my Department was established last September to develop an integrated rehabilitation provision as the fifth pillar of the strategy. The working group includes representatives from a range of Departments and agencies involved in delivering rehabilitation services, as well as representatives from the national drugs strategy team, the national advisory committee on drugs and the community and voluntary sectors. The terms of reference of the group include examining the current provision of rehabilitation services in Ireland and recommending actions to develop an integrated rehabilitation service for the future. The working group has held a number of meetings, as well as consultations with interested parties. It is envisaged that its recommendations will be finalised by mid-year and that it will report to the interdepartmental group on drugs and to the Cabinet committee on social inclusion at that stage. Central among the bodies involved in dealing with the problem of drugs misuse is the national drugs strategy team. This is a cross-departmental team involving Departments and agencies operating in the drugs field with representation from the community and voluntary sectors. It plays a vital role in overseeing the work of the local and regional drugs task forces.

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