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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 8. Misuse of drugs [39927/13].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 8. Misuse of drugs [39927/13]. (26 Sep 2013)

URL: http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20a...


8. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health the reason for the delay in updating the misuse of drugs regulations to deal with the misuse of benzodiazepines; the timeline for the enactment of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39927/13] 

Deputy Alex White: A draft Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Regulations, which will amend the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1988, was prepared in my Department following a consultation which took place with a wide range of stakeholders during late summer and autumn 2012. Amendments proposed include the introduction of measures to address the problem of the illicit trading and supply of benzodiazepines and z-drugs, which are prescription medicines, and other updates to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations. The proposed draft regulations constitute a major amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations.
 
In order to obtain input from stakeholders and interested parties on the text of these draft regulations prepared following the 2012 consultation, a further consultation process was carried out during the summer. The proposed amending text and an explanatory document were published on my Department's website, inviting written submissions. The deadline for submissions was Friday, 6 September 2013. More than 90 such submissions have been received and are currently being reviewed by my Department.
Arising from the consultation process, the Draft Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Regulations will be submitted to Government seeking the Government's approval to notify the draft regulations to the EU Commission and member states under the technical standards directive. At the end of the three month EU notification period, the Government's approval will be sought to make the relevant orders.
It is anticipated that the new regulations will be introduced early next year.
 
Deputy Terence Flanagan: I thank the Minister of State for his response. Mr. Basil Miller, director of communications at the Wellbeing Foundation, stated in 2011 that 95% of patients are being given antidepressants contrary to guidelines. That equates to roughly €55 million per year which is paid out by the HSE for antidepressant drugs for patients who would be better off on treatments other than medication. There are savings to be made here as we come towards the budget.
 
The Department of Health has promised to address the issue of over-prescribing, but it does not seem to be happening. When exactly next year will we see regulations in this area? Not only is it costing the health service money, but it is costing lives. Prescription antidepressants are freely available on the streets in Ireland and this is delaying important treatment for vulnerable people, which can only lead to self-harm and death.
 
Deputy Alex White: The issue the Deputy raises is related to this question, although it has a slightly different focus. The focus of Deputy Naughten's question was on the misuse of drugs regulations and the increasing problem of the availability, literally on the street, of prescription drugs, many of which are antidepressants and drugs prescribed for anxiety. Deputy Flanagan is correct to link that with what he claims is the practice of over-prescription, especially in the treatment of anxiety and depression. While the issues are linked, they are not precisely the same and there is an onus of conscience in the HSE and on the part of policy makers generally in respect of prescribing strategies. We have taken this on board in the area of prescribing in general, and not just in the area of prescribing and depression, so we can ensure that appropriate prescribing strategies are applied by the medical community. We rely on the professionalism of our doctors in huge measure, and that has always served us well, but I will take into consideration the points made by the Deputy.
 
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Is the Minister of State aware of the study by the National Documentation Centre on Drug Use which was published last year under the auspices of the Health Research Board? It found that 49% of opiate-dependent clients surveyed had reported using non-prescribed benzodiazepines in the previous month. The greatest number of these are former heroin users who are on methadone, but this clearly demonstrates either over-prescription of these drugs, which are being sold on by those for whom they were prescribed, or that these drugs are being wrongly prescribed so that people have them to pass on, which they are clearly doing.
 
The authors of the report recommend a more formal and active assessment of the needs of clients on methadone treatment and rapid access to evidence-based treatment for benzodiazepine misuse. Will the Minister of State adopt these recommendations, or has he already investigated the implementation of the recommendations of that report?
 
Deputy Alex White: The Deputy raises a very good point, which was precisely the motivation for the consultation process and the intended introduction of these amended regulations. The Deputy is absolutely right; this is an increasing problem. There is poly-drug use, such as combinations of benzodiazepines with methadone or alcohol. It is a major new challenge in this sector and something with which we are only beginning to get a grip. We understood the drugs problem in Dublin to be the heroin problem, but it has a different dimension now and the Deputy has touched on that in large part. Many of the recommendations to which the Deputy has referred are actually in the draft regulations that I proposed and hope to introduce next year. I do not have time to go through them right now, but they include issues such as unauthorised possession of benzodiazepines, controls on the licences for importing and exporting them, and stricter prescribing and dispensing rules. There is a list of recommendations, all of which I hope to include in these regulations.

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