Home > Joint Committee on Health debate. National Drugs Strategy: Minister of State at the Department of Health.

[Oireachtas] Joint Committee on Health debate. National Drugs Strategy: Minister of State at the Department of Health. (19 Jan 2022)

PDF (Health Committee implementation: Opening statement by Minister Frank Feighan)
PDF (Joint Committee, 19 January 2022 - transcript)

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

Chairman: I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for public health, well-being and the national drugs strategy, Deputy Feighan, who will provide the committee with an update on the national drugs strategy. I also welcome Mr. Jim Walsh, principal officer, from the drugs policy and social inclusion unit in the Department of Health, and Dr. Eamon Keenan, national clinical lead in addiction services, from the HSE.

Before we hear the Minister of State's opening statement, I need to point out to our witnesses that there is uncertainty as to whether parliamentary privilege will apply to their evidence if given from a location outside the parliamentary precincts of Leinster House. If, therefore, I direct them to cease giving evidence relating to a particular matter, they must respect that direction. I understand the witnesses are all within the precincts of Leinster House anyway.

All witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of a person or entity. If, therefore, their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative they comply with any such direction.

I call the Minister of State to make his opening remarks.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Frankie Feighan): Thank you, Chairman, for your invitation to appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health to discuss the implementation of the national drugs strategy 2021-25. As you said, I am joined by two officials: the principal officer in the drugs policy and social inclusion unit of the Department of Health, Mr. Jim Walsh, and the HSE national clinical lead for addiction, Dr. Eamon Keenan. I am honoured to appear before the committee for the first time as Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy. The timing of my appearance is significant as I recently set out our new strategic priorities for this period. While I address this meeting as a Minister of State in the Department of Health, I emphasise that the national drugs strategy is a whole-of-government policy that involves many other Departments and is accountable to the Department of the Taoiseach and the Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality.

My first message for the committee is that drugs continue to be a major policy challenge for Irish society. I remind the committee of some of the components of the challenge. A total of 9% of the population used an illegal drug in the past year. This rises to one in four among males aged 25 to 34. In 2017, 376 individuals died from a drugs overdose. In 2020, 9,700 cases were treated for problem drug use, with another 5,800 cases treated for problem alcohol use. Many people experience the collateral impact of drugs, including children, families and communities, as documented in recent reports on Ballymun, Drogheda, Darndale, Tallaght, the north-east inner city and Dublin south-central. More than €200 million per annum in labelled public expenditure is spent on drugs policy, including €136 million from the Department of Health, with unlabelled expenditure and productivity costs amounting to in excess of €650 million. Then there is the scale of the drugs economy and criminal activity.

My second message is the commitment to a health-led approach in the national drugs strategy, whereby drug use is treated as a public health issue and not primarily as a criminal justice matter. Let me be clear: a war on drugs is not an effective response to drug use.

My third message is about the effectiveness of the national drugs strategy to date in addressing these challenges, in particular delivery on the 50 actions in the first period of the strategy, from 2017 to 2020. The recently published midterm review found that 25 actions either have been delivered on completely or are broadly on track. A further 20 actions are progressing but with a minor or major delivery issue. Specific achievements include prevention of the harmful effects of drug and alcohol use; improved access and availability of drug and alcohol treatment services; alternatives to possession of drugs for personal use; public awareness of the drug-related intimidation reporting programme; opportunities to exchange knowledge as to what works and to inform policy development; and engagement with the British-Irish Council and the European Union....

Click this link to the Oireachtas website for the full debate

Click this link for the full recording of the Health Committee proceedings (3 hours, 13 minutes, begins at 12 minutes into video)

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