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Home > 44. Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on Citywide's Cocaine in Local Communities follow-up survey. [42866/06]

[Oireachtas] 44. Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on Citywide's Cocaine in Local Communities follow-up survey. [42866/06]. (13 Dec 2006)


51. Mr. English asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on the recent proposals by the national advisory committee on drugs and the national drugs strategy team on dedicated cocaine clinics; his response to these recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42873/06]

53. Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the details of the most recent British-Irish Council ministerial meeting regarding the sectoral group on the misuse of drugs; and the situation regarding all-Ireland co-operation on the issue of tacking cocaine abuse. [42862/06]

88. Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Information Zoom if he will expand on his recent comments that ways must be found to get over the stigma that many middle class people feel about receiving drug treatment in view of increasing levels of cocaine addiction; his views on whether Ireland is in the midst of a cocaine crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42847/06]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern): I propose to take Questions Nos. 44, 51, 53 and 88 together. I have been aware for some time of the anecdotal evidence of increased cocaine prevalence and, for this reason, last year I asked the national advisory committee on drugs and the national drugs strategy team to prepare a briefing paper on cocaine. This paper was presented at the last interdepartmental group on drugs meeting in September 2006. The paper did not involve new research, rather it arose from an examination of sources such as crime data, drug seizure figures and data from hospital and drug services. While more detailed evidence on cocaine will arise from the drug prevalence survey, which is currently in progress nationwide, available indicators point to increased use of cocaine. The Departments and agencies listed as being responsible for the implementation of the recommendations of the briefing paper have been asked to give their reactions to the relevant suggestions and it is proposed to discuss their responses further at tomorrow’s meeting of the interdepartmental group on drugs. The recommendation on dedicated cocaine clinics will be looked at in this context, as will the issue of the stigma that many middle class people feel about receiving drug treatment. However, in the broader context, I believe we should work towards having drug services that can cater for the individual problem drug user, regardless of the drugs they use.

Mr. Crowe: One of my questions related to the Citywide survey on cocaine. It confirms what the Minister of State has said, namely, there is clearly a growth in drugs use. The 2004 survey found that 14% of projects reported seeing clients with what they described as problematic cocaine use. However, 62% of projects are now reporting such problematic cocaine use. Two years ago, 92.6% of projects reported existing clients were using cocaine. This survey has shown there is a huge growth in cocaine use. There is a lack of proper analysis of the information available. There clearly is a gap between what some community groups are doing and what we seem to have officially. The worrying thing for community activists or those involved in the anti-drugs campaign over the years is that the problem is worsening. The survey discusses the emergence of crystal meth and ten projects report on the local availability of crack cocaine. However, the Garda does not seem to have information on the spread of crack cocaine. Does the Minister of State accept that the survey is useful and timely? Does he believe this data is vital to combating drugs? Some 62% of projects are seeing clients for whom cocaine is their main drug. Half the projects have recorded an increase in cocaine use among clients; one project in north Dublin recorded four cocaine-related deaths. Does the Minister of State accept that we also need to look at so-called recreational drugs? Does he accept that alternatives, such as cafés or youth clubs, must be provided for young people? It is vital that groups setting up such facilities are funded by the Department. Does the Minister agree that facilities such as these should receive State funding? Is the Department currently funding any alcohol and drug free cafes? These provide an alternative to hanging around on street corners. Such a youth facility operates in Killinarden and a huge number of young people use it, enjoy the atmosphere in it, and are involved in positive activities such as education. When will the decision be made regarding the cocaine projects? The biggest problem is that the Government, and probably the Minister of State himself, is still unsure as to how to tackle the problem. Anecdotal evidence from across the country suggests drug use is worsening. How will we respond to this?

Mr. N. Ahern:I thank the Deputy for his questions and know he understands the problem. I do not disagree with anything contained in the Citywide survey - it is a reflection of attitudes on the ground. We are working in partnership with community groups and the local drugs taskforces. Approximately €70 million is being spent annually on projects that were recommended and suggested at community level. While we take on board their suggestions about what is required, the drugs problem has not gone away and will not go away. It is a case of trial and error, and if anyone has the total solution they should let us know what it is. The point made in the paper produced by the advisory committee on drugs and the drugs strategy team is that many of the available services - there are up to 700 people working in the areas of prevention and treatment - were tailored to the heroin problem. There is a degree of truth in the assertion that many of the services are very opiate-focused. We need to adjust and tweak those, or set up new services to attract people with cocaine problems. This is the difficulty. As the Deputy has mentioned, cocaine use is not just happening in the traditional, disadvantaged areas; it is also being used in many middle class areas. It is difficult to get those people to avail of treatment. They are much slower to realise they have a problem. They think recreational cocaine use is for the film star set and no health difficulties are attached. This is entirely untrue. Cocaine is a very dangerous drug and can lead to mental and physical health problems, including heart attacks and strokes. It is difficult to get that through to people. Many people are reluctant to admit they are “druggies” and avail of services. It is similar to the problem with alcoholics. We could cope better and tailor services to people’s needs if we could make them realise and admit they have a problem. The young people’s fund has provided many services such as facilities and youth workers. More than €120 million has been spent in this area, mainly in the Dublin suburbs, including Tallaght, in recent years. An allocation was also announced in recent weeks. They are providing an alternative and giving young people something else to do. At-risk teenagers are particularly targeted by these programmes. While much is being done, the problem is shifting from heroin use, where numbers have stabilised, to cocaine. However, they do not come forward so we are considering what services can be offered to convince them to cop on and realise they are building up a problem within themselves. Then we must provide the appropriate treatment. The pilot project in Tallaght about which Deputy Crowe spoke is still being evaluated. Its funding will continue but it is very much a pilot project. We want to build on it, tweak it where necessary and get it to adhere to best practice before it becomes mainstream. Reports on the project are good and it may be replicated in other areas in the future. Its funding will continue until the evaluation is completed.

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