Home > 9. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the latest figures available to his Department in relation to deaths that are linked to cocaine use; his proposals in relation to addressing the problem. [26502/07]

[Oireachtas] 9. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the latest figures available to his Department in relation to deaths that are linked to cocaine use; his proposals in relation to addressing the problem. [26502/07]. (01 Nov 2007)

URL: http://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/2007/11/01/00018...

13. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the research his Department has carried out in relation to a drug (details supplied); the results of such research; the side effects of such a drug; the action taken to highlight the dangers attached to the drug; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26501/07]

14. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the action that will be taken to address the public disconnect between recreational drug use and criminal activity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26308/07]

Deputy Pat Carey: I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 13 and 14 together. The figures for direct drugs-related deaths are extracted from the general mortality register, which is compiled by the CSO. The latest year for which figures are available is 2004, when nine deaths were attributed to cocaine use. As it is considered that these figures do not give a full picture of the number of deaths linked to drug use, it has been decided to establish a national drugs-related deaths index, in line with action 67 of the national drugs strategy. The Health Research Board is currently working on the development of this index and it is hoped that the first figures will be available before the end of 2008. When people mix cocaine and alcohol, they compound the danger that each drug poses as the human liver combines the two and manufactures this substance. As one might expect, data from the national drug treatment reporting system indicate that cocaine and alcohol are being used together. While the combination of the two drugs intensifies euphoric effects, the substance in question is more toxic than either on its own and can cause more serious physical harm, particularly to the cardiovascular system, as well as having the potential to increase the risk of sudden death. With respect to what is perceived as recreational drug use and its relationship with criminal activity, I agree with the Deputy that there is an evident public disconnect. This problem arises in part from the fact that many cocaine users do not see themselves as having a drugs problem, with the physical, mental, social and financial risks involved. Against this background, they do not perceive themselves as contributing to the overall illicit drugs market, with all the criminality involved, criminality that can be disproportionately felt in disadvantaged areas. Since my appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy, I have spoken quite often on this theme and I am heartened by the recent public comments of others in this regard, most notably by the President last weekend. I am pursuing the implementation of the recommendations of the national advisory committee report, entitled An Overview of Cocaine Use in Ireland, mainly through the inter-departmental group on drugs, which I chair. Furthermore, my Department has funded four pilot cocaine projects and a training initiative for front line personnel to deal with cocaine issues. 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 and cocaine use has also been provided under that fund. My Department also sponsored a highly successful conference last June, organised by the SAOL project and the national drugs strategy team on the response to cocaine through shared good practice. A very useful resource pack for workers in the field was launched at that event. It strikes me that the issues raised by all three Deputies can be considered in the deliberations on a new national drug awareness campaign. This campaign is being led by the HSE and my Department is represented on the associated campaign advisory group.

 Deputy Jack Wall: I thank the Minister of State for that detailed reply. Deputy Burton’s question was concerned with the side effects of a mixture of alcohol and cocaine. The mixture creates a substance that can cause health problems. We see a lot of road accidents where young people are killed late at night. One wonders if this substance creates drowsiness or a lack of sensitivity to one’s actions. Will there be more details sought on this issue? What is the medical view on how to address it? It seems to be questionable and in need of investigation. The sooner we get to that stage, the better. I had never heard of this substance before I read about it in an article. Is there something in it worth investigating? Will the Minister of State highlight one or two of the different projects to show us what is going on? Deputy O’Shea and I have spoken about road accidents and fatalities and how we have not yet reached a situation where the presence of drugs is determined as a cause. At a time where road safety is a big issue for everybody, when will we get to that stage? Will the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs lead on this, or will it be the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform? Will there be an interaction between the two?

Deputy Pat Carey: It is timely that we are addressing this issue today, in view of the findings just published by the Health Research Board on the abuse of alcohol. There is increasing anecdotal evidence of significant mixing of alcohol and other substances, such as cocaine, heroin, benzodiazepines, ecstasy and so on. We are now getting to the stage where there is a problem with polydrug use. The fieldwork on an all-island prevalence study of drug misuse has been completed. We expect to publish the results before the end of the year, and it will give us a strong indication on the nature of drug use and how it has changed since the last study was conducted in 2003. We would be foolish to think that it will not indicate an increase in the use of certain drugs. We are working with the HSE, the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on implementing the findings of the cocaine report and the rehabilitation report, both of which were published earlier this year. I am satisfied with the level of progress on the implementation of those at the moment. We have had meetings in the past few days with a number of working groups. There is an emerging strategy on alcohol misuse, which is being carried out by the Department of Health and Children. I am anxious that there be a close synergy between the drug misuse strategy and the alcohol strategy. We are teeing up the review of the current national drugs strategy, which will run from 2009 to 2016. We would be foolish if we did not make the best use of the time available to us to marry both. The HSE will be handling a number of the cocaine-specific projects. Under the national drugs strategy in my Department, we have a number of pilot projects in Tallaght, the south inner city and the north inner city. Some of them have been more successful than others by their very nature. Those which deal with particular target groups have been successful. We have also concentrated heavily on promoting the training of front-line workers. Merchants Quay Ireland provides training and 104 people have been trained there. The Leeds Addiction Unit in Leeds University is also providing training in cognitive behaviour therapy, while the Waterford Institute of Technology is running a number of courses in that regard. Complementary therapies are regarded, along with cognitive behaviour therapy, as being one of the best ways of dealing with the problem, and the Blanchardstown local drugs task force has been involved in such therapies. There are many other projects, such as the Finglas-Cabra drug task force, Croí Nua in Crumlin, the DROP project in Dún Laoghaire and an ongoing project in Cork. There are also linked projects and the Irish Prison Service has engaged Merchants Quay Ireland to provide counselling in prisons in order to prepare prisoners who are being discharged. There is also a good link project in Cork Prison with the local drugs task force and the Health Service Executive, HSE. This provides the context regarding the Department’s position in this regard. I am uncertain whether this has satisfied the Deputy.

Deputy Michael Ring: Is Ireland any closer to drug testing? While everyone is discussing the abuse of alcohol and driving, more people are being killed on the roads through the abuse of drugs. There is no way to test people who drive having taken drugs when they are in a serious accident. I note the Minister of State was not attached to the Department before the general election. However, a survey was under way on the availability of drugs in Ireland, which was to be completed in April and published before the general election. However, this did not happen. When will the survey be published? I refer to the rehabilitation pillar of the national drugs strategy. A lady whose son is in prison visited my clinic recently. While he seeks rehabilitation, such a service is not available to him. Although the family is making an effort to get something done for him, there is no point in sending that young man to prison without providing him with the medical help he needs. What is happening in this regard?

Deputy Pat Carey: As for drug testing, I have discussed the issue with the Garda. Five or six devices are being pilot-tested at present to ascertain their utility in detecting substances other than alcohol or prescription medicines in the bloodstream. However, it will be some time before the results become available. While I am open to correction on this issue, I do not believe it was ever expected that the all-island drug prevalence survey would be completed before the end of this year.

Deputy Michael Ring: I understand it was due for completion in April.

Deputy Pat Carey: The fieldwork has been completed in recent weeks and the study is being written up at present. I hope to have it by the end of the year. As for the rehabilitation report and its recommendations, I met representatives of the HSE the other day and will meet the local and regional drugs task forces to ascertain how they are rolling out services. For example, the increase in the number of detoxification beds can be achieved by working with the voluntary sector and the hospitals. However, the Department is anxious to promote a continuum of care. The provision of detoxification alone is not especially valuable as preparation for it and continuity after it must be provided. The Department is aware that waiting lists for treatment are patchy in different parts of the country. This is the reason I am working with those regional drugs task forces in particular that have been allocated reasonably significant budgets but have been rather slow to roll out their programmes. I hope to visit the regional drugs task force that covers Deputy Ring’s area before the end of this month. If there is anything he believes I should examine while there, I will be happy to accommodate him.

 Deputy Michael Ring: I thank the Minister of State and will be in contact with him. Deputy Jack Wall: The measures mentioned by the Minister of State all constitute positive steps towards our common goal of trying to improve the situation of the unfortunate people under discussion. I refer to rural Ireland, where there is now a consensus of opinion that a major drug problem exists across the entire spectrum. As for the collation of the data sought by the Department, what will be done with them? What interactions does the Minister of State anticipate he or the Department will have while trying to address this issue?

Deputy Pat Carey: The regional drugs task forces are collating all such information in conjunction with the HSE. Many of the programmes to be rolled out will be operated in co-operation with rural general practitioners and community pharmacists. As for other schemes, issues pertaining to education and accommodation, as well as wider issues, must be addressed. Some parts of the country have less satisfactory cover than elsewhere. I visited the Kildare area in the past week or two and was impressed by what I found there. I also visited projects in counties Kerry and Cork within the southern regional drugs task force area a couple of weeks ago and was highly impressed. I will visit the Cavan and Meath areas tomorrow to examine several projects there. The Department works closely with the regional drugs task forces to ensure the provision of as comprehensive a service as possible. I am under no illusions that it will take a great deal more time and a good deal more investment before what I would consider to be an entirely coherent service will be in place nationwide. Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate. Vol. 640 No. 5 Priority Questions Thursday, 1 November 2007

Item Type:Dail Debates
Date:1 November 2007
Subjects:B Substances > Cocaine
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland
P Demography, epidemiology, and history > Population dynamics > Substance related mortality / death
A Substance use, abuse, and dependence > Substance related societal (social) problems > Drug use and driving

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