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Home > 43. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community; Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs if his attention has been drawn to recent data from the Health Research Board pointing to an increase in heroin use, particularly in centres outside of Dublin. [40623/10]

[Oireachtas] 43. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community; Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs if his attention has been drawn to recent data from the Health Research Board pointing to an increase in heroin use, particularly in centres outside of Dublin. [40623/10]. (03 Nov 2010)


Priority Questions – Drug Treatment Services 

43. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community; Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs if his attention has been drawn to recent data from the Health Research Board pointing to an increase in heroin use, particularly in centres outside of Dublin; if he shares the view expressed by the Chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (details supplied), that the figures highlight the need for investment in treatment services; the steps being taken to reduce the demand for heroin, in the light of these figures; the progress made with regard to the implementation of the National Drugs strategy, particularly in the light of these figures; if he will give a commitment that funding in this area will not be further cut; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

44. Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Community; Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on the recently published report by Merchant’s Quay Ireland which notes that heroin use is on the increase; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Deputy Pat Carey: I propose to take Questions Nos. 43 and 44 together.
I am aware of recent reports on the national drug treatment reporting system data, published by the Health Research Board in January, that cover numbers in treatment for problem drug use in Ireland in 2008.
Heroin use remains a major problem in our country. All the indications are that, while the use of heroin is relatively stable in the Dublin region, it has become more widely dispersed around the country, particularly in the major cities and in towns across Leinster. Responding to this problem continues to be a priority under the National Drugs Strategy 2009-16.
I fully accept the view that the provision of treatment services is vital to address the needs of problem drug users. This is illustrated by the fact that we currently have 9,400 people in methadone treatment. New opiate substitution services have opened this year in Cork, Tralee and Wexford, and these will be followed shortly by facilities in Kilkenny, Waterford, Limerick, Dundalk and Drogheda. This is being done by the HSE with financial support from my Department. Further opiate substitution services in the midlands are being actively considered and expansions of needle exchange services, rehabilitation services and detoxification facilities are being implemented.
Meanwhile, I welcome the publication of the report to which Deputy Feighan refers which outlines the continued extensive work undertaken by Merchant’s Quay Ireland in dealing with the drugs problem. The report indicates that 4,092 people availed of that organisation’s needle exchange service in 2009. This represents a reduction on the 2008 figure of 4,657 and the 2007 figure of 4,705. Also, the number of new needle exchange clients at 642 showed a continued decline from 2007. Overall, it is encouraging that injecting opiate users are making the first steps to access treatment services as this will help to reduce the risks of the spread of blood borne viruses, improve the overall health of individuals and is likely to encourage some opiate users, at least, to engage further with treatment and rehabilitation services.
The National Drugs Strategy 2009-16 aims to tackle the harm caused to individuals and society by the misuse of drugs through a concerted focus on the five pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research. I believe that the actions set out in the strategy facilitate a planned and monitored approach to achieving the overall strategic objective.
The progress made in addressing the issue of head shops and the psychoactive substances they sell is illustrative of what can be achieved with interdepartmental co-operation under the national drugs strategy. Following legislative changes implemented by the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, the number of head shops in operation has reduced from 102 to 11 at the latest count. Meanwhile, An Garda Síochána and Revenue’s Customs Service continue to prioritise the targeting of those involved in the supply of drugs. Their work will encompass measures to tackle the threat of psychoactive substances being sold through the Internet.
Over €36 million will be expended by my Department in combating problem drug use this year. I see this area of expenditure as being of particular importance, especially in view of the benefits that can accrue to the individuals involved and to society at large. I will make every effort to protect funding in this important area but, as the Deputy is aware, I cannot give an undertaking in this regard in advance of the completion of the estimates process and the budget.
I stress my determination to tackle the issue of problem substance misuse over the coming years and I am confident that the national drugs strategy will continue to facilitate this.
Deputy Jack Wall: I thank the Minister for his reply. As regards the increase in heroin use, one just has to look at the very good articles that have appeared in the Irish Examiner in recent weeks which highlighted the major increases in use occurring in every area, regardless of where it is. Even in the Leas-Cheann Comhairle’s area, Wexford, there has been a rise of 270% as regards detection and the same trend is evident in Kildare and all the other areas.
On numerous occasions here I have tried to raise the question of the demand for the drug, and what we are doing to ensure that parents and young people, including teenagers, recognise the dangers and the type of damage they can do to their health by becoming involved in drug use in the first place. We seem to be reactive as a society when a person is involved with drugs. I believe, however, that the Minister, who is responsible for communities, must ensure they work with him to try to decrease the demand for drugs in every area. That is a major issue, and I ask the Minister to outline how he might like to see such an initiative being undertaken.
I honestly believe the gardaí are doing their utmost, but again their job would be a great deal easier if we can manage to decrease the demand. I saw in the newspapers recently that head shops are now selling on the Internet. They have reduced their costs and the threat is still there. Perhaps the Minister will state his views on the issue of head shops selling on the Internet in regard to community involvement in this area. Will he set out his proposals to reduce demand for heroin in particular?
Deputy Pat Carey: Deputy Wall is correct that heroin use is prevalent in all parts of the country. Some communities are good at recognising the need to address the issue and many have done so. I have travelled extensively in the context of examining interventions. Deputy Wall referred to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle’s area, which is an example of how despite a community’s response to a problem there will always be obstacles. There will always be someone who will the test the planning process and so on. This issue needs to be addressed and is being addressed.
There is no doubt but that alternatives must be found. The best alternative is prevention. In this regard, the education programmes in and outside our schools are good, including the Walk Tall and Social Personal and Health Education programmes, which are being well taught. Work with young people outside the school setting is also important. Increasingly, people are of the view that what is needed are good community facilities and alternatives be they GAA, soccer clubs, youth cafés, canoeing or cycling or walking trails and so on. What is at long last emerging is recognition that the family plays a key role in prevention. I strongly recommend that Members read the report published last week by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs. The report, which many Members may already have read, deals with early school leavers and their engagement with drugs versus those who remain in school. It references their primary influences being parents, teachers, peer group and the community.
Deputy Frank Feighan: The Merchant’s Quay Ireland report published in September states that since the recession began heroin use has reached record levels. The former Governor of Mountjoy Prison said we are sleep walking into a national disaster and that there are more drugs in Mountjoy Prison than there are sweets in a tuck shop, which is a cause for concern. During the last recession Dublin was decimated by drugs. The same story is now unfolding across the country. The allocation in terms of drugs funding last year was €300 million. While funding for 2010 has been reduced it is nonetheless a significant sum.
I ask that the Government consider the situation a crisis and that it consider all funding in the context of ensuring a crisis response to it.
Deputy Pat Carey: I have never been under any illusion in terms of the challenge of trying to keep ahead of the drugs issue. The situation is forever changing. There is a danger that we will chase after the latest headline. A couple of months ago that was head shops and we are now back to heroin and are speaking more of the need for rehabilitation, detox beds and so on. Merchant’s Quay Ireland is to the forefront of organisations dealing with drug treatment. I applaud what it is doing here in the city. Anyone who would like to learn more about what it is doing in the area of treatment, rehabilitation and so on need only visit St. Francis Farm in Tullow, County Carlow, which provides a range of services in state of the art premises. I am sure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle knows well the facility in Ballyragget in County Kilkenny, which provides services for the under 18s.
The former Governor of Mountjoy Prison, Mr. John Lonergan, is in his own way saying what everyone else has been saying for a long time. I do not agree with him that every place is awash with drugs although I accept there is a high level of usage of all substances be it alcohol, benzodiazepines, cocaine and so on. Programmes, whether inside or outside prison, must be in place to deter access to drugs, to keep people from using them and to rehabilitate those who are addicted to them.
Deputy Jack Wall: I am pleased the Minister is aware of the facilities around the country that are available to communities. However, we must lead the drive in this regard. I ask the Minister, as I did his predecessor, to meet the relevant national organisations be they involved in sport, recreation, drama and so on to ensure all are encouraged to take on the drug barons in the battle to reduce demand. If we can reduce demand, everything else will fall into place. The Midland Regional Task Force has reported an increase in heroin use. There are also chronic problems in regard to accessing treatment. We must reduce demand and ensure no further increase in drug misuse.
The Minister’s predecessor, Minister of State, Deputy Curran, agreed to meet the national organisations on the next phase of the national drugs strategy in regard to alcohol. I want the Minister to give a commitment that he will meet the organisations and work with them and all of us. I am sure Deputy Feighan and Members of all parties will work together to defeat this problem. The only way we can defeat it is by working together. We must reduce demand thus helping everyone else involved, including the Garda Síochána and so on. I hope the Minister can give us that commitment today.
Deputy Pat Carey:  I have met the main organisations, including the three large sporting organisations who are aware of their responsibilities and are implementing good programmes. Only two days after my appointment, I was invited to Croke Park to see what the GAA is doing with the HSE. I met on that occasion with representatives of the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Rugby Football Union and have since met a range of smaller organisations the length and breadth of the country, of which there are 24,000. They are in their own way making a difference and are conscious of the need for concerted action. For this reason, I am anxious that we complete what I started when last in the Department, namely, a single strategy for alcohol and substance misuse which is currently at final drafting stage. I hope to be in a position to bring it to Government before the end of this year, following which it will be rolled out.
Deputy Frank Feighan: I, too, have visited many of the agencies and drug task forces around the country and I am aware the Minister has been to the forefront in terms of working with them.  If some type of crisis response to this problem is not developed thousands of individual lives will be destroyed.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:    A question, please.
Deputy Frank Feighan: We will work cross-party to ensure the scourge of drugs is tackled. I pay tribute to the agencies and clinics working on the front line. Their work has been exceptional.
Deputy Pat Carey: I appreciate what Deputy Feighan said. Public representatives play an important role in drugs task forces as do others. The community response to the head shops is a good example of what can be done when people recognise danger. We will have to continue to develop our response regardless of where the problem arises. Despite all its critics, the Health Service Executive is co-operating and providing new services in areas where gaps existed.
Vol. 720 No. 4
Priority Questions – Drug Treatment Services
Wednesday 3 November

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