Home > Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 11 - Drugs-related deaths [8033/15].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 11 - Drugs-related deaths [8033/15]. (25 Feb 2015)

11. Deputy Billy Kelleherasked the Minister for Health the number of deaths caused by drugs; and if he will provide a specific figure for those involving methadone in each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [8033/15]


Deputy Billy Kelleher: What is the number of deaths caused by drugs? Specifically how many people have been using methadone in each of the past five years? Will the Minister make a statement on the matter? Could we have a broader discussion in the context of the methadone treatment programme itself?


Deputy Leo Varadkar: Drug-related deaths are a human tragedy for the families and friends of the people involved and have a considerable impact on communities and society as a whole. While there are no easy solutions to addressing the problem, the Government is committed to stepping up the effort to reduce the number of drug-related deaths. The latest annual figures from the national drug-related deaths index indicate that 350 people died in 2012 due to the toxic effects of drugs, a decrease from 387 in 2011. There were 86 deaths involving methadone in 2012 as compared with 118 in 2011, 60 in 2010, 69 in 2009 and 80 in 2008. Methadone was involved in one out of four poisoning deaths, and in most of these deaths methadone was mixed with another drug.


Many drug-related deaths are avoidable, particularly those involving methadone or heroin overdoses. For this reason, I have authorised the HSE to undertake a demonstration project on the use of naloxone in the prevention of opioid overdose. Naloxone reverses the effects of drugs like heroin, morphine and methadone in someone who overdoses. The pilot study, which is being carried out this year, aims to increase access to naloxone for non-medical staff, such as the families or friends of a drug user and those who work with drug users. The HSE budget includes an extra €2.1 million to support this project and other measures targeting vulnerable drug users, including through the provision of additional residential detoxification beds and additional rehabilitation facilities.


My Department is commencing work on the development of a new national drugs strategy for the period after 2016. The process will involve comprehensive consultation with stakeholders and the public on the current national drugs policy and future priorities. It will also take account of evidence-based research, information and data sources on the extent and nature of problem drug use in Ireland, including drug-related deaths.


Deputy Billy Kelleher: I thank the Minister for his reply and welcome the fact that there is a commitment to carry out a review of our drug treatment programmes and the national drugs strategy. Let us be very clear: this has fallen off the political agenda. That is many people's fault but the key issue is that there is a major problem of drug abuse in the State. It is escalating continually.


With regard to opiate substitutes, has the Minister considered buprenorphine as an option? Treatment centres seem to depend continuously on methadone. We must consider other options. It seems that, as a people, we are just satisfied to give addicts methadone and hope they will not annoy us on the street. We must look beyond that. The drug users need support and assistance. Collectively, we should try to reach some consensus on how to address this issue.


Professor Farrell's report of 2010 did come up with various views on opiate substitutes. Are we very blinkered or channelled in our approach and completely dependent on methadone as a treatment for heroin and opiate addicts?


Deputy Leo Varadkar: The objective is to reduce the number of drug deaths. At least for the years for which we have the most recent figures, the number of drug deaths has decreased slightly. There will be two developments this year that I hope will improve circumstances. First is the naloxone project, which is to make naloxone available to users, their families, friends and those who work with them to reverse overdoses. This will be the single most effective measure we can take to save lives. The second development, which is very important, is to increase the budget for drug treatment by over €2 million this year. This will include traditional needle exchanges and additional detoxification beds to facilitate people who want to come off opioids altogether and go clean. That is why the additional beds have been provided. Some additional ones have been provided in my constituency in Ashleigh House, Coolmine, which particularly target drug users who are pregnant or who have young children. I visited the centre and have seen its work. I am very happy I have been able to provide additional resources for Merchants Quay Ireland, Ashleigh House and other facilities this year. I hope to be able to continue to do so in the coming years.


Deputy Billy Kelleher: I do not expect the Minister to answer my next question if he does not know the details. In the context of rolling out the naloxone programme, will Garda stations and other places in areas of high drug use have naloxone available? It seems that while we make some efforts in the treatment of heroin and opiate addicts, in particular, we seem to be happy enough just to give them methadone and hope they go on their merry way and not annoy society any more. Collectively, that is not good enough. Some are on methadone for up to 20 years. We must examine other options to try to ensure we give addicts every assistance in trying to address their drug addiction. Handing out methadone alone without other supports, including detoxification programmes, and without considering other substitutes is insufficient. We have not given heroin users options to try to treat or deal with their addictions in recent times. I welcome the broader issue, which concerns a full review of our drug treatment systems.


Deputy Leo Varadkar: Long-term methadone maintenance may be the best option for some people. It is certainly not the best option for everyone, and that is why we are increasing the number of detoxification beds this year. We will certainly consider all these issues in the context of the next national drugs strategy. I very much welcome the Deputy's input into that.


On the specific question on the naloxone demonstration study, initially the programme is aimed at non-medical staff, care workers, families and peers of opioid users. It is already the case that paramedics can use naloxone. Its administration by gardaí and prison officers would require willingness on their part to be part of this project. It is important that there be consent. It is intended at some point to have a discussion with those concerned and to include them, if appropriate.


  Questions Nos. 12 and 13 replied to with Written Answers.

Item Type:Dail Debates
Date:25 February 2015
Related URLs:
Subjects:B Substances > Opioids (opiates) > Opioid product > Naloxone
P Demography, epidemiology, and history > Population dynamics > Substance related mortality / death
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland

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