Home > Seanad Eireann debate - National Drugs Strategy: statements.

[Oireachtas] Seanad Eireann debate - National Drugs Strategy: statements. (26 May 2015)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/seanad...

Acting Chairman (Senator Marie Moloney): I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.


Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin): I apologise for the delay as I was responding to a debate in the Dáil. I am pleased to address Members of the Seanad on my new role within the Department of Health, aligned to my responsibilities in the Departments of Justice and Equality and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, in regard to the national drugs strategy. I wish to update the House on my priorities in advancing this agenda.


I am delighted to be afforded the opportunity to undertake this role. I see it as a vital role that needs the attention of a dedicated Minister. My experience as a teacher and principal in Dublin's north inner city taught me all about the horrors of drug abuse and the need to tackle the effects that it can have on the individual, their families and communities. I am deeply committed to doing all I can, as Minister of State, to reduce the damage that drug use causes to individuals and to wider Irish society. Problem drug use continues to be one of the most significant challenges facing our country. It results in damaging consequences for the individual concerned and for their families and it also impacts the wider community and society on multiple levels. Directly or indirectly, every community is affected by drug abuse and addiction.


Those struggling with drug problems are often the most marginalised in our society. They may have multiple, complex and interlocking needs, such as poverty, housing, poor health and education, which require multiple interventions involving a range of different agencies. Consequently, the national drugs strategy aims to promote inter-agency working in a difficult cross-cutting policy and service area. Its overall objective is to tackle the harm caused to individuals and society by the misuse of drugs through a concerted focus on the five pillars, which are: supply reduction; prevention; treatment; rehabilitation; and research. The strategy is based on a co-ordinated approach across many Government Departments and agencies, in conjunction with the community and voluntary sectors. We are beginning work on a successor to the current strategy, about which I will speak in more detail later.


The national drugs prevalence survey 2010-11 provided key data on drug prevalence in Ireland. For example, levels of illegal drug use were mainly stable in Ireland between 2006-07 and 2010-11. Some 7% of all adults reported using any illegal drug in the year prior to the survey; cannabis was the most commonly used illegal drug and 6% of all adults reported using the drug in the year prior to the survey; 6.5% reported using sedatives and tranquillisers in the year prior to the survey; and 5% reported using anti-depressants in the same period. This survey is currently being repeated and the information gathered will inform future policy direction and contribute to the development of the new strategy.  Unfortunately, because of the nature of the particular issue, we do not have good data on heroin usage in Ireland. The national advisory committee on drugs and alcohol is currently undertaking a survey which will provide us with useful estimates of heroin usage. Even without this data, I am satisfied that heroin represents a substantial element of our drugs problem and I am determined to find the most effective ways to address this scourge.


The scale and nature of the drug problem in Ireland is constantly evolving. We need to maintain our focus on combatting this serious problem. It is also useful to acknowledge some areas where significant progress has been made in recent years.


Prevention and awareness programmes constitute a significant part of the Government's response to the drug problem. The social, personal and health education programme is the foundation for developing awareness of drug and alcohol issues in schools. I know from my own experience as a teacher and principal that maximising school completion rates is central to the prevention of potential problem drug and alcohol use. In addition, research shows that having a positive experience of school and learning is a major protective factor that reduces the risk of substance use.


As well as providing substance use education in schools, young people at risk of drug misuse are supported through diversionary programmes providing facilities and services and are offered family support. Very significant investment is being made in the Garda youth diversion programme. It seeks to divert at risk young people from becoming involved in criminal behaviour, including drug-related crime, and in preventing their succumbing to drug misuse. My colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, recently announced that an additional €2.8 million has been secured under dormant assets funding. The funding will enable a further ten new Garda youth diversion projects to be established in targeted areas. This will bring to 110 the total number of youth diversion projects in operation nationwide.


Achieving improved health outcomes for people with addiction issues is a key priority in the HSE service plan for 2015. In recent years, the HSE has placed a particular emphasis on ensuring that appropriate treatment services are provided, on a timely basis, to service users.


Waiting times for access to services, particularly outside Dublin, have been considerably reduced. At the end of December 2014, over 97% of clients over the age of 18 accessed treatment within one calendar month of assessment, while 100% of those under 18 received treatment within one week. Additional funding of €2.1 million has been provided in the HSE's budget for 2015, which includes an additional 53 beds, creating 439 new treatments.


There is now comprehensive coverage of needle exchange services across the country. The expansion of needle exchange outside Dublin, with the support of funding from the Elton John Aids Foundation, has resulted in the recruitment and training of over 130 community pharmacies. I recently attended a presentation by the HSE on how this programme is operated and I was impressed by the success of the initiative to date. In fact, during 2014 over 42,000 packs which contained over 240,000 needles were given out.


Approximately 9,800 people are availing of opioid substitution treatment. The number of new entrants to treatment, whose main problem drug is heroin, is in decline. However, in recent years the rise in polydrug use, including alcohol and prescription medication, has become an increasing cause for concern.


I welcome the HSE-led project on naloxone which was launched in recent days. Naloxone is an antidote used to reverse the effects of opioid drugs like heroin, morphine and methadone in some overdoses. This innovative project involves training lay persons, such as the family and friends of a drug user, in the administration of a naloxone injection to overdose victims. Research shows that providing increased access to naloxone for people likely to witness an overdose is an effective way of reducing overdose deaths. I have no doubt that lives will be saved as a result of this initiative. Every drug-related death is a tragedy for the families and friends of the person involved and has a considerable impact on communities and society as a whole. The provision of naloxone to those most at risk and their families is a real step in the right direction…..


[For the full statement, click on this Oireachtas website link]

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