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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - Drug and alcohol task forces.

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - Drug and alcohol task forces. (25 Jun 2019)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...


Deputy Maurice Quinlivan: I am sharing time with Deputy Ellis. Is the Minister of State confident that sufficient funding has been allocated to drug and alcohol task forces to allow them to achieve the better outcomes envisaged in the national drugs strategy? As the Minister of State is well aware, drugs are a massive plague in many communities across the State. Not nearly enough is being done or invested to tackle the root problems behind this epidemic. I am a member of the Mid-West Regional Drugs and Alcohol Forum and I know that my city of Limerick has a worsening drugs problem. Heroin, cocaine, the excessive use of alcohol, gambling and the misuse of prescription drugs are causing huge problems right across the city. Unfortunately, class A drugs such as cocaine are becoming all the more common, particularly among middle-class people. The use of cocaine is rampant in nightclubs and pubs across the country and this has escalated in recent years. In addition, it is estimated that hundreds of people in Limerick are now addicted to heroin alone. 

The normalisation of drug use, and particularly of class A drug use, is of deep concern to me and others and it is something that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. The misuse of drugs in Limerick is increasing on an almost daily basis. The outcome of that can be seen on the streets. Polydrug use, including the misuse of prescription drugs combined with alcohol, is having a devastating effect across Limerick city. The continued failure to resource properly those who are working on the front line against the scourge of drug addiction is simply not acceptable. It is unsustainable and, for that reason, the problem is getting worse.

 

I have said this in the Chamber on a number of occasions and it depresses me to say it again, but the national drugs strategy will fail if the funding for it is not increased. Without additional resources, there is no hope of it achieving its aims. I really do wish it to succeed but, without funding, I have no confidence that it will.

Another massive problem in this area is that families are being left to pay the drug debts of their members. Some people are being forced to take out large expensive loans from moneylenders, which only creates further problems. Will the Minister of State outline what extra investment and resources she will be seeking in the upcoming budget to tackle these issues? Will she outline the action she has taken to address the normalisation of drug use and the issue of moneylending and family drug debts?

 

Deputy Dessie Ellis: I have been a member of the Finglas and Cabra Drugs and Alcohol Task Force for almost 20 years. Drugs and alcohol task forces had their funding cut every year between 2008 and 2014. Funding has effectively been frozen since 2014, despite the escalation of the drugs crisis. This has had a devastating effect on the delivery of proper services for communities and on the drugs and alcohol task forces, which have lost experienced personnel. In addition, drugs projects now have to tackle the alcohol crisis as this has been added to their remit without any extra funding or resources being allocated. Funding needs to be reinstated to 2008 levels with an increase in funding to reflect the addition of alcohol issues to their remit. Staff should have their pay restored and those who are entitled to increments should also have these restored. More emphasis on health-related solutions and programmes is needed and our children need to be educated about drugs from an early age. 

There are new challenges every day. For example, taking cocaine is, shockingly, being seen more and more as a recreational activity. There were 736 drug and alcohol-related deaths in 2016, which is a far greater number than those who died on our roads. Parents, children and whole communities are being terrorised and intimidated by those involved in the drug trade. Another worrying trend is the grooming of children for use as drug couriers. Task forces need to be given responsibility for drafting and implementing local strategies to combat the drugs crisis. Task forces must be supported by the State and Government agencies including the HSE, An Garda Síochána and local authorities. Drugs and alcohol task forces need their funding restored because they are best placed to work with communities and with those with addictions and to fight against the ever-increasing drug problems in our communities.

 

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Catherine Byrne): I thank the two Deputies for their contributions. I will come back to some of the issues that were raised in my second contribution. The national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, is our whole-of-Government response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland for the period from 2017 to 2025. Drug and alcohol task forces at local and regional level play a key role in assessing the extent and nature of the drug problem in local communities. They also ensure that a co-ordinated approach is taken across all sectors to address substance misuse based on the identified needs and priorities in their areas. The Department of Health provides in the region of €28 million to support task forces annually through various channels of funding, including the HSE. Individual task forces receive, on average, €1 million, which can be used to respond to local needs. 

Measuring the overall effectiveness of the response to the drug problem is an important objective of drug policy. Resources should be directed towards interventions and strategies which are most likely to lead to a reduction in problem substance use and an improvement in public health, safety and well-being. The level of progress achieved in delivering on the actions set out in our national drugs strategy will be determined using performance indicators.

 

In March 2019, I announced additional funding of €1 million for the implementation of Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery. This funding, which will be provided on a recurring, multi-annual basis, will address the priorities set down in the strategy including early harm-reduction responses to emerging trends in substance misuse and improving services for groups with complex needs. The funding will complement enhancements in drug and alcohol treatment services relating to mental health and homelessness under the 2019 HSE national service plan. On foot of a consultation process with drug and alcohol task forces and the HSE, I approved a three-strand funding model for the allocation of this funding in May. As part of strand 1 funding, each task force will receive €20,000 in 2019 and then €10,000 on a recurring annual basis from 2020 onwards. This funding can be used to enhance services and meet operational costs. I have made arrangements for these additional resources to be transferred to the task forces as soon as possible. I hope this will happen in the coming weeks. I will address some of the issues the Deputies have raised when I come back in.

 

Deputy Maurice Quinlivan: I thank the Minister of State for her response and acknowledge the good work she has done since being appointed to her position. Unfortunately, she is being strangled by the lack of resources. My understanding is that the €1 million she announced in March, on the day of the Private Member's motion on the issue, is to be spent by task forces over the next three and a half years. That is quite disappointing. I thought that money would be ring-fenced and poured into drugs task forces this year. As I said earlier, the Mid-West Regional Drugs and Alcohol Forum has taken cuts of more than 50% since 2008. This has not been restored and the problem has worsened. Over the years these cuts have negatively impacted on and prevented the delivery of drug and alcohol services that are urgently required in Limerick and across the entire mid-west region. The Criminal Assets Bureau also needs to be resourced so that the proceeds of crime can be taken from local drug dealers and gangs. Young people would see that the lifestyle of drug dealers is not what is portrayed on television or in movies if the response from the CAB was better. Does the Minister of State intend to look at this particular area or to look for additional funding in the budget? 

Deputy Dessie Ellis: I welcome the money the task forces will receive, as the Minister of State outlined. It is evident that the task forces have lost a significant number of personnel. This money will not go near helping to keep those people on board because since 2008, the funding has been cut by up to 38% and we are nowhere near restoring that. While the increased money is welcome, the Finglas Cabra drugs task force is probably the least well-funded task force in Dublin. Most of them received €10,000 each last year. The problem is that it nearly took more to administer that. We needed much more to cater for the different problems we had with staff and getting new projects up and running. We have lost projects as a result of the lack of funding in recent years. We need a major injection of funding. While the amount the Minister of State mentioned is welcome, it goes nowhere near solving the problem. 

Deputy Catherine Byrne: I acknowledge, as both Deputies said, that there has been a shortfall in funding for the task forces over the years. We are all very clear as to what happened in recent years with funding. We have €1 million. We have started to meet those involved in the services. We have met the co-ordinators and the chairpersons. We are developing a three-strand model for the recently-announced funding of €1 million. Strand 2 on this funding was 12 strategic health initiatives. Task forces can include in this, health initiatives on early warning for alcohol and cocaine abuse, and getting into the heart of communities, particularly with young people. Each community healthcare organisation, CHO, has a number of task forces. Each initiative will receive €190,000 over 36 months with €40,000 in 2019, €60,000 in 2020 and €30,000 in 2022. 

In recent weeks the Department and the HSE have organised four workshops for task forces and CHOs on the application process for the strand 2 funding with workshops in Dublin, Cork and Carrick-on-Shannon. The deadline for applications is 29 July. There is plenty of time for task forces. This was not just announced last week. It was announced a couple of months ago that this money was coming on stream. I have been meeting and speaking to co-ordinators and chairpersons. As they work on the ground, they are fully aware of the needs in communities. I am sure there will be plenty of applications outlining what they will do with the funding.

It is my intention to approve all the allocations of this additional funding by the end of August and I am committed to implementing an integrated public health response to substance misuse with the twin aims of reducing harm and supporting recovery. Working in partnership with the task forces and the HSE, I am confident that the allocation of the additional resources in 2019 will make a significant contribution to achieving this objective.

 

As in previous years I will engage with the 2020 Estimates process in my Department to ensure that additional resources are to be implemented in key actions in the national drugs strategy.

 

The mid-west task force was allocated €1,497,989 and will shortly receive the previously mentioned additional €20,000 for 2019. I understand the frustration on the ground over the allocation and retention of staff. I have also spoken to the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, about it.

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