Home > Dáil Éireann debate. Priority question 29 - National Drugs Strategy [46334/10]

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. Priority question 29 - National Drugs Strategy [46334/10]. (14 Dec 2010)

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29.  Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community; Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 141,143, and 144 of 24 Samhain 2010, his views regarding the data supplied by the Health Research Board showing the high level of drugs use here; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Deputy Pat Carey:As indicated in my previous reply, the data to which Deputy Wall refers is primarily drawn from the 2010 annual report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, with the Health Research Board being the national agency through which the Irish input is channelled.


For the reasons outlined, I emphasise the need for caution when using data to derive cross-European comparisons. Also, the Irish input on heroin is based on a study published by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs, NACD, in December 2009. As indicated at the time due to several technical factors associated with the capture or recapture methodology used the figures were regarded as an overestimate of the opiate-using population here. The NACD is currently undertaking research aimed at identifying an appropriate estimate model for use in Ireland, taking the data sources available into consideration.


I accept that 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 throughout the country, especially in the major cities and in towns throughout Leinster. The data under reference also emphasises the welcome increase in the number of people who are in receipt of treatment to deal with their drugs problems. As I pointed out previously, 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.


Deputy Jack Wall: I thank the Minister for his reply. I resubmitted this question because I believed the Minister’s reply to my questions in November had watered down the extent of drug use. When it is claimed figures given should not be taken as absolute, it still should not take from the fact that use of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, cannabis, etc in Ireland is relatively high. We saw how in the past several days the death of one person, a sad and unfortunate individual who was prominent in radio and television, led to reams of newspaper columns on the circumstances surrounding his death. Accordingly, we must not water down the survey’s results but highlight them to youngsters about the dangers of drug use.


An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Does the Deputy have a question?


Deputy Jack Wall: Will the Minister ensure a positive review is made of these figures for this purpose?

Deputy Pat Carey:I have no intention of watering down any findings on drug use. The drugs problem is serious. Even if Ireland did not feature in any league tables, as far as I am concerned, any abuse of drugs is an abuse too much.


The report, published on 10 November, states 55% of problem opiate users were in opiate treatment in 2007, the last year for which we have an estimate. In Dublin, the average waiting time for a substitution treatment programme is between two weeks and six weeks. Those living outside Dublin can wait between one month and two years. Since I was appointed, I have concentrated on improving these times in Leinster with the Health Service Executive.


It should also be noted from the report that up to 30% of those entering treatment reported injecting use, while 22% of new cases reported injecting drug use. The proportion of injector cases has decreased since 2003, however. In 2007, 74% of drug related deaths, such as overdose poisoning, were due to opiates alone or opiates in conjunction with other drugs. There was a steady rise in heroin seizures between 2004 and 2007. At its peak in 2007, there were 1,698 heroin seizures, while in 2009 it came to 1,455, a 14% reduction.


The general population survey reported 1.7% of adults used cocaine in the year prior to the survey and that the percentage was higher among young adults, 3.1%, and men, 2.3%. Ireland is ranked fifth highest in the EU for cocaine use. In 2008, of those who entered treatment, up to 17%, 761 people, reported cocaine as their primary use. What really must be examined for the future is the number of cocaine deaths which increased from ten in 2003 to 63 in 2007 while the number of seizures rose from 566 to 1,749. However, it decreased significantly in 2009.


Deputy Jack Wall: These are the figures we want in the public domain. While the Minister has read them out here, I want to see them in every health centre, doctors’ clinic, GAA grounds and other public places to highlight the dangers of drugs. Alternatives to drugs must be provided through better recreational facilities and so forth. We have some hope if we can reduce the demand for drugs; if not, we will have a battle at all times.


On several occasions in the House, I have raised the danger of cocaethylene, the chemical caused by mixing alcohol and cocaine. Unfortunately, over the past several days we saw how this has emerged again. However, the Department and other drug abuse agencies have not highlighted the danger of mixing alcohol and cocaine. It is important those who use cocaine and mix it with alcohol are aware and warned of these dangers.


Deputy Pat Carey: I agree with Deputy Wall that this information should be provided in the public domain such as doctors’ surgeries. Interestingly, when I recently launched a programme for a drugs taskforce I was informed it was all very fine having such information in doctors’ surgeries but it needs to be in places where young people recreate such as GAA clubs and so on. It is all very fine for professional practitioners to have access to this information but an in-your-face approach is needed. There are examples of effective uses of such an approach across the country.

Priority Questions - National Drugs Strategy
Tuesday, 14 December 2010
Vol. 725 No. 1

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