Home > What are the Minister’s priorities?

Pike, Brigid (2012) What are the Minister’s priorities? Drugnet Ireland, Issue 40, Winter 2011, pp. 9-10.

On 22 September 2011 Róisín Shortall TD, Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Primary Care and the Drugs Issue, appeared before the Joint Committee on Health and Children to talk about illegal drug use. Below are excerpts from the Minister’s responses to the Committee.1 

Legal highs
… work is well advanced in my Department on the introduction of regulations under the Misuse of Drugs Acts to control a further extensive range of products.
Needle exchange
Approval has recently been granted for the proposed provision of needle exchange services in approximately 65 community pharmacies at various locations outside Dublin, with part funding being provided by the Elton John Aids Foundation. A national liaison pharmacist has been appointed to oversee this programme, the roll-out of which will begin next month. Needle exchange services in Dublin are provided through HSE clinics, and through voluntary sector providers, so this initiative will facilitate broad national coverage.
Methadone treatment
I am concerned about people getting stuck on methadone without having an adequate progression through the system [to a drug-free life]. … We are examining ways of ensuring there is that kind of progression by involving more GPs. I see no reason a large number of drug users’ regular GPs cannot provide treatment for their drug problem, just as they treat them for any other health problem they may have. A certain cohort of drug users would be regarded as quite chaotic and would not be suitable for treatment in local GPs’ surgeries. Many drug users, however, should be treated by GPs and, therefore, I want to see those GPs’ services being expanded. I am working on that at the moment.
I hope to bring forward specific proposals on three key areas of concern, the first of which is pricing. Personally, I would be very committed to going that route [minimum pricing] if it were legally sound. That is the basis on which we are proceeding to address that problem. … the other key area is the explosion in the number of outlets for alcohol. … Alcohol is not a normal product for sale in a supermarket like food, milk, minerals or whatever. It is a potentially dangerous product and for that reason, it needs to be treated differently to other products. It was a retrograde step to liberalise the licensing laws in the way we did, which opened up the question of availability. … The other area is clearly the availability of alcohol to those under age. ... We need to tackle the issue of distance selling … We also need to tackle the question of under age sales and there needs to be greater enforcement of the law in that area. … The third area is the question of those over 18 buying alcohol for those aged 13 or 14 waiting outside. I am not satisfied that there has been adequate enforcement of the law in that area. ... I would like to see us being much more vigorous in that regard and there will be proposals on that in the new strategy.
I have decided to take an initiative on the information available to us on persons on medical cards who are prescribed benzodiazepines as well as persons who avail of the community drugs scheme. As the committee will be aware, all of those data are available in the primary care reimbursement centre in Finglas. There are rich data available on exactly what is happening in prescribing for most of the population.
I hope, starting next month, that an in-house team within the PCRS will investigate those figures, look in detail at prescribing patterns in respect of benzodiazepines, and identify problem areas, problem practices, problem GPs in terms of their prescribing patterns and where patterns are out of line with national norms and best international practice. At that point, when we have the data to see the extent of the problem, we will take it to the next step further where that team will meet GPs where there are difficulties, address it at that level and work with those GPs to bring their prescribing patterns into line with best practice.
Treatment waiting times
In the Dublin area, waiting times are approximately one month. That is an improvement but a month is still too long. … I am aiming for two weeks. … Progress is being made in this area. It entails acceptance of new treatment facilities and the recruitment of more GPs.
There are common threads in the profile of those most at risk of using heroin, in particular, such as poverty, family dysfunction and early school leaving. All those factors predispose people to abusing drugs. Education programmes in schools need to tackle the problem of low self-esteem and to provide education and employment opportunities for people as well as making them aware of the dangers of the abuse of alcohol and illicit drugs. Programmes are in place in schools and a group within the Department of Education and Skills is reviewing them to ensure they are up to date and relevant to where young people find themselves.
Drugs task forces
I am currently reviewing the role of the drugs task forces in respect of accountability and clarity of their role in terms of oversight of the projects they sponsor. …  We need better evaluation to ensure good standards are in place. This will be part of the evaluation to be carried out.
There are real strengths in having this type of local response to the drug problem in areas where there is greatest prevalence. The local drugs task forces are in the 14 most disadvantaged areas, in terms of the greatest use of heroin in particular. The local drug task forces provide a local forum for the community, voluntary sector, statutory agencies and, in many cases, public representatives to work together to address the local problem in a meaningful and constructive way. I am examining the composition of the drugs task forces. I would like to see public representatives playing a greater role in the drugs task forces. …
There is often confusion between groups working under the banner of the drugs task forces and those that are community development projects, partnership companies and so on. It is important to distinguish between the work of the different sectors. There are concerns about various aspects of the different schemes. We are currently examining those to ensure coherence and a better level of accountability in that regard. I would be nervous about tarring all community bodies with the same brush. We need to acknowledge that there is now greater accountability and evaluation in that regard. We must distinguish between those that are good and those that could be much better.
(Compiled by Brigid Pike)
1.  Róisín Shortall(2011, 22 September) Illegal drug use: discussion (resumed). Houses of the Oireachtas: Joint Committee on Health and Children. Accessed 1 December 2011 at http://debates.oireachtas.ie/HEJ/2011/09/22/
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 40, Winter 2011
January 2012
Page Range
pp. 9-10
Health Research Board
Issue 40, Winter 2011
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

Repository Staff Only: item control page