Home > Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 1 - National Drugs Strategy [21019/07].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 1 - National Drugs Strategy [21019/07]. (27 Sep 2007)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...

1. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs  the progress made to date on reducing the hardship caused to individuals and society by drug misuse. [21019/07]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Pat Carey): I thank Deputy Ring for tabling this priority question and I take the opportunity to congratulate him on his appointment. I look forward to working with him. I also congratulate Deputy Wall and look forward to working with him also for whatever period we are together. The National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 has achieved considerable success across a range of areas in reducing the hardship caused to individuals and society by problem drug use. Under the strategy, the Government continues to address problem drug use in a co-ordinated way through the original four pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research.

These have been augmented, following the mid-term review of the strategy in 2005, by the fifth pillar regarding rehabilitation. The levels of drugs seizures by the Garda and the Customs and Excise have been well in excess of the targets set out in the strategy and they include a number of significant operations. Under the prevention pillar, the SPHE and Walk Tall programmes have been rolled out to all schools. Awareness campaigns have been organised and tremendous achievements have been made under the young people’s facilities and services fund. Treatment facilities have increased significantly, with approximately 8,500 in receipt of methadone in July, and a range of services are being provided across the statutory, voluntary and community sectors for various types of problem drug use. Research in areas such as drugs prevalence, the outcome of heroin treatment, families and drugs, the effect of drugs on communities and cocaine issues have all helped to inform our progress.

The specific achievements of my Department under the strategy include the programmes developed by local and regional drugs task forces, capital projects developed under the premises initiative fund and preventive actions undertaken through the young people’s facilities and services fund. The 14 local drugs task forces are well established, having been in operation for nearly ten years. At this stage, more than 440 community-based projects are being supported, employing more than 300 people and delivering a wide range of services and supports for problem drug users, their families and their broader communities. Furthermore, through the emerging needs fund, approximately €4 million was allocated to 67 projects last year to ensure that the drugs problem was being combated on the ground in the most timely and flexible way. Additional information not given on the floor of the House. An evaluation of approximately 270 interim funded LDTF projects is under way and it is expected to be completed later this year. The outcome of this evaluation will help to inform the way forward for any development and strengthening of projects at LDTF level. Ten regional drugs task forces, RDTFs, were also established in 2003, thus ensuring that all parts of the country now benefit from the operation of a drugs task force. Following extensive consultation processes, all regions prepared strategic plans which are now being rolled out in the different areas. The RDTFs will be pressing ahead towards full implementation of their plans in the coming year or two at a full cost of approximately €14 million. On capital funding, a premises initiative fund is now open to applications from all drug task forces to address the accommodation needs of community-based drugs projects. It is envisaged that RDTFs will come forward with an increased range of proposals under this fund in the coming period.

The young people’s facilities and services fund was established to assist in the development of youth facilities, including sport and recreational facilities, and services in disadvantaged areas where a significant drug problem exists or has the potential to develop. The main aim of the fund is to attract “at risk” young people in disadvantaged areas into these facilities and activities and divert them away from the dangers of substance abuse. The target group of the programme is young people in the age range of ten to 21 years who are defined as “at risk” due to factors such as family circumstances, educational disadvantage, or involvement in crime or substance misuse. Earlier this week, I was pleased to announce additional capital allocations of nearly €7 million to support 42 projects under the fund. To date, allocations of more than €125 million have been made to almost 500 facility and services projects in LDTF areas in Dublin Bray and Cork, as well as in Galway, Limerick and Waterford cities and Carlow town. The Government is committed to maximising the successful outcomes of the current national drugs strategy. The allocation of €50 million this year in my Department’s Vote clearly illustrates this point. This amount represents an increase of 16% on the 2006 figure and is 87% higher than the corresponding figure for 2004. In all, more than €200 million was spent on various drugs programmes across Departments and Government agencies last year. Indeed, this figure is exclusive of the many mainstream services that are availed of, in the normal way, by those affected by problem drug use.

Meanwhile, we continue to adapt our approach to drugs issues in a flexible manner to address evolving situations. In that regard, I am overseeing the implementation of the recommendations of the report of the national advisory committee on drugs entitled An Overview of Cocaine Use in Ireland, largely through the interdepartmental group on drugs, which I chair. In this context, significant efforts are being made at both statutory and community level to tackle that problem. Looking forward, the programme for Government contains commitments in regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the working group on drugs rehabilitation, developing and strengthening the range of drug task force projects, continuing and extending the young peoples facilities and services fund and providing cocaine specific facilities. I can assure the Deputy that I will be working to ensure that these commitments are fulfilled. I will shortly be initiating the process that will lead to the formulation of a new national drugs strategy for the period after 2008. While the challenges ahead are clearly significant, I am confident that we can build on our experiences and achievements to date in meeting them.

Deputy Michael Ring: While I am not going to cause a row on my first Question Time-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am glad to hear that.

Deputy Michael Ring: -----I wish to put down a marker. I tabled two priority questions both of which were ruled out of order, which I feel is unfair. A procedure should be in place. I was lucky that I had tabled other questions. As far as I was concerned the questions were in order. They were direct questions to the Minister. While I am disappointed I will not cause a row on it today.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I would like to explain to the Deputy. First, I will give him injury time on this so that it will not impact on his time. I understand that the questions were not disallowed, but rather transferred to a different Minister.

Deputy Michael Ring: Correct.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair has no control over the Minister to whom responsibility is allocated by the Government.

Deputy Michael Ring: I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. As today is the first Question Time for the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, I wish him the best of luck. I congratulate him on his appointment and look forward to working with him. He has arranged for a briefing for us by his Department, which I welcome. The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, has agreed to do the same. The Minister of State probably has the most important job in the country at present. We have a very serious drug problem. We are spending considerable resources without seeming to have the result. With regard to the money spent by the Department trying to address the drug problem, what targets have been set and how many of them have been met? A number of people have already contacted me who wished to get their sons or daughters on detoxification programmes. I am advised that only 25 beds are available, all of which are in Dublin. No places are available for people outside Dublin. If people reach the stage of being ready for detoxification it is not appropriate that they must wait 15 or 16 weeks for a bed. What will the Minister of State and the Department do to address this issue? Considering the money that is spent how does the Department measure success and how is it measured internationally? Is the Department reaching the targets set in its programme? This is the most important problem facing society at present. Later I have a further question about drugs coming into the country.

Deputy Pat Carey: I agree this task is one of the most challenging there is. Having spent the past three months meeting local drugs task forces and some regional drugs task forces, I am very impressed by the range of work being carried out at local level by the community and voluntary sector and by the statutory sector. In regard to the amount spent, I can provide the Deputy with a detailed breakdown. In 2006, in excess of €200 million was spent across a range of Departments and agencies, including the drugs strategy unit, the Department of Health and Children, the HSE, FÁS, the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Prison Service, the Garda Síochána and Customs and Excise. In addition, there was considerable further expenditure on schemes that have been mainstreamed since the drugs strategy was put in place over the past ten years, ranging across a number of Departments and agencies, including the Departments of Education and Science, and Health and Children, FÁS and others. In regard to targets, the National Advisory Committee on Drugs is constantly reviewing the targets and benchmarking against previous studies. The mid-term review of the national drugs strategy is almost complete. All the projects have been evaluated. We are close to identifying those that will be in a position to be mainstreamed and they will be re-examined. The actions in the national drugs strategy, of which there are more than 100, are being reviewed. In the Rehab Group annual report, which was published at the height of the general election when few of us had time to read it, there is a proposal to increase the number of treatment detox beds, some of which will be in a hospital setting. I have been examining how the community and voluntary sector, under strict clinical governance, could increase the number of detox beds in that area. I am discussing that with some of the providers. One measure of success is the ROSIE study. It is a very detailed piece of research which is mirrored across other European and OECD countries and tells us how we are doing. We are doing reasonably well but complacency is not something we can afford.

Deputy Michael Ring: Are there any plans for a national advertising campaign on the abuse of drugs which would be made available in schools? There are campaigns on drink driving. It is time for one on drugs. This is the biggest single problem we face and does not only affect deprived areas. It is in middle class and wealthy communities where people use their credit cards to snort the drug. It is time there were raids on the upper classes as well as targeting disadvantaged areas. I hope we will see real efforts by the Government to show people the effects of drug abuse on people and communities.

Deputy Pat Carey: Advertising is part of the national drugs strategy. We have a number of pilot projects, in particular, one in the Blanchardstown area where there is a freefone service, a texting service and a postal service. The national drugs strategy intends rolling that out over a wider area. I am also examining other ways of targeting young people using new web-based and text-based technologies. I have had some discussions with some of the groups that specialise in that area and hope to bring proposals to Government fairly soon. In regard to schools, the SPHE programme is taught through junior cycle. I met the SPHE co-ordinators in July.

2. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which suggested that cocaine use is increasing at a higher rate in Ireland than in any other developed country; the steps he will take to reduce cocaine use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21165/07]

Deputy Pat Carey: I am aware of the recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which suggested that Ireland is experiencing a higher rate of increase in cocaine use than other developed countries. I must stress, however, that it is the rate of increase that was being assessed in the report, not the actual level of cocaine usage. Furthermore, it should be borne in mind that our rate of increase is coming from a very low base and, within developed countries, we are considered a mid-ranking country in terms of cocaine usage. Major European countries such as Great Britain and Spain are continuing to experience higher rates of usage. The report uses indirect indicators such as numbers presenting for treatment, arrest numbers and levels of seizures to measure cocaine usage. However, it is only when the second national drug prevalence survey is completed, the first reports from which are expected later this year, that we will have an up-to-date picture of the prevalence of cocaine use in our society. It is worth noting that the main author of the report, Mr. Thomas Pietschmann, attributed the result in part to “honest reporting” by the Irish Government. He further commented that it is normal for countries that are performing well economically to be targeted for cocaine sales. The National Advisory Committee on Drugs and the national drugs strategy team prepared a joint briefing paper on cocaine based on existing data in Ireland. The paper, An Overview of Cocaine Use in Ireland, which was published earlier this year, concluded that data sources indicated an upward trend in cocaine use, again albeit from a low base. The paper also highlighted the extremely high risks associated with cocaine and the physical and mental health problems that arise from its use. Cocaine is particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol and other substances and these messages on the real dangers associated with its use need to be highlighted. The social and economic harm also needs to be stressed, not only to the users of cocaine, but also to their families and to communities that bear the brunt of the behaviour and criminal activity associated with the supply and use of cocaine. I have repeatedly stressed the dangers associated with so-called recreational or weekend cocaine use and the glamorising of cocaine in some quarters. Additional information not given on the floor of the House. A number of recommendations are made in the paper, principally in regard to treatment, but also covering supply, prevention and research. A key conclusion of the report is that treatment, primarily in the form of counselling, can and does work and, in this context, the provision of cocaine-specific clinics in a small number of areas where cocaine problems are more acute is being pursued. However, in the broader context, I am of the view that we should work towards having drug services that can cater for individual problem drug users, regardless of the drugs they use and this is also being addressed. Another key recommendation relates to the training of frontline personnel to deal with cocaine issues. In this regard, a training initiative has already been funded by my Department, as well as four pilot cocaine treatment projects to examine different methods of treatment for cocaine use. Meanwhile, the HSE has initiated the roll-out of further training for both its own staff and those in the community and voluntary sectors who are dealing with the issue. Under the emerging needs fund, six cocaine specific projects in local drugs task force areas have been funded and support for a further nine projects aimed at polydrug-cocaine use has also been provided under that fund. My Department also sponsored a highly successful conference in June last organised by the SAOL project and the NDST on the response to cocaine through shared good practice. A very useful resource pack for workers in the field was launched at that event. Progress on the implementation of the recommendations of the briefing paper is being closely monitored by the interdepartmental group on drugs, which I chair. In addition, the HSE is addressing the issue in a determined way and the NDST, along with the drug task forces, will continue to review the needs in communities. The challenges posed by cocaine use are significant, but I am confident that we can meet these challenges through a co-ordinated approach utilising the structures of the national drugs strategy.

Deputy Jack Wall: I thank the Minister of State for his offer of a briefing and also the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, for his note and his offer of a briefing. The United Nations report is negative. It states that Ireland ranks fifth highest in terms of the increase in cocaine use and is the only developed nation that has experienced a large increase in use. If one examines the records, everything has increased tenfold since 1999. The number of cocaine-related offences recorded by the Garda Síochána has increased fourfold from 297 to 1,224. Cocaine seizures have increased from 17 kg in 2002 to 270 kg in 2006. Everything is going in the opposite direction to what we want. We should not accept that it is normal for cocaine use to increase if we are doing well. What alternatives are we providing to weekend use of cocaine? According to the report, 2 kg of cocaine per day is consumed in the greater Dublin area. What is being done to break that momentum? The figures in this report indicate we are not doing anything and that we are allowing use of cocaine to increase to epidemic proportions. It is imperative that we put down markers to try to break that momentum. Otherwise we will experience again what we experienced in the early 1990s with heroin.

Deputy Pat Carey: The use of cocaine is worrying. There is no point in pretending otherwise. It is now a phenomenon across all social classes. That was highlighted in the Rehab Group report and in the report on cocaine which was published earlier this year. There are measures and pilot projects, including four cocaine-specific initiatives. There is one in Blanchardstown and another in the south inner city. I do not recall where the others are at the moment. I will come back to the Deputy on that issue. These projects are being used to develop best practice in the area of treatment for cocaine use. In the wider area of treatment, there are very good community-based interventions in terms of holistic therapies, cognitive behaviour therapies, acupuncture and so on, which are proving quite successful. That, however, will not be enough. We need to have further interventions. Ireland ranks fifth highest in terms of the increase in cocaine use. It remains considerably behind the United Kingdom and Spain, which is no great consolation. The track of cocaine coming from South America has changed. The current route to mainland Europe is through Colombia, west Africa and Mediterranean countries. The Garda Síochána seized 18 kilogrammes of cocaine in 2002. Some 190,000 kilogrammes with a street value of €13 million were seized in 2006. That is an enormous increase and very worrying.

Deputy Jack Wall: The level of funding provided in this area is not sufficient. The president of EURAD stated the Government had concentrated resources in methadone clinics and failed to address the drugs problem holistically. We are not doing enough, in terms of advertising, to show the downside of drugs. It is fashionable to take cocaine. We must tackle this problem by providing an alternative. How does the Minister of State propose to do this? I admit the task is a difficult one but we will play our part in supporting the Minister of State in his efforts to address it. He has stated three projects have been initiated in certain parts of Dublin to try to address this problem. He might as well be sweeping the streets in those areas because this will not have any affect nationally. These three projects will not break the momentum of the drug barons of Ireland.

Deputy Pat Carey: The three projects to which I referred are very specific. Local drugs task forces, the HSE and others provide for a wide range of interventions. We are developing best practice. While there is no alternative to cocaine in terms of medication, there are interventions in terms of therapies and so on. It is not true to say nothing is being done. An important intervention which has been approved by the Cabinet is the Lisbon centre. Ireland will be one of seven European countries which will collect data intelligence on cocaine trafficking and devise intelligence-led measures to counter the epidemic.

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