I welcome the Bill. It is necessary legislation to continue the fight against the evil of drug barons and those who peddle drugs.
I wish to bring to the attention of the House an excellent survey on drug abuse in third level colleges which was carried out by the Union of Students in Ireland. It is the first such survey and the research was carried out in October and November, 1997 and January and February 1998. I congratulate USI on conducting the survey as part of its drug awareness campaign. When we discuss drug abuse we tend to concentrate on the deprived areas of our cities where drug abuse is a significant problem. However, we usually ignore other areas even though drug abuse occurs at all levels of society. It is important that we are conscious of the need to tackle the drugs problem in a multifaceted way.
A total of 72 per cent of respondents indicated that they took drugs for the first time at second level; 5 per cent, at primary level; and 23 per cent, at college. The earliest age at which a respondent took drugs for the first time was 11. The majority took drugs for the first time between the ages of 14 and 18. A small number took drugs for the first time over the age of 18. I was surprised to learn that only 10 per cent indicated that the drug they had tried first was ecstasy compared to a figure of 47 per cent for cannabis.
There is a view that young people experiment with drugs because of peer pressure but 75 per cent of respondents indicated that they took drugs initially out of curiosity. Only 17 per cent indicated that they took drugs because their peer group was doing so. This appears to suggest that an awareness campaign to create a better understanding of drug abuse could be effective. A total of 67 per cent indicated that they had received information prior to taking drugs. When asked from where they had received it, 28 per cent indicated that they had obtained it from articles, 24 per cent from friends, 23 per cent at school, 10 per cent from parents and 8 per cent from an older sibling while 6 per cent said they had found it out for themselves. A strong awareness campaign highlighting the dangers associated with experimenting with drugs should influence young people not to get involved.
A total of 69 per cent of respondents indicated that they were aware of the effects drugs could have. A total of 62 per cent indicated that they now consume a larger quantity. Those who use drugs on a weekly basis usually smoke four joints a week on average. Most would describe themselves as regular cannabis users. The average amount spent per week on hash is £10 to £15. Others would describe themselves as weekend users. Their average alcohol intake is six pints on a night out. They take one ecstasy tablet on average. Those who use drugs on a few occasions each month spend £10 on average on hash. The other drugs used in this manner are ecstasy, speed and poppers.
Those respondents who cited affordability as the reason for continuing to use drugs indicated that smoking cannabis was cheaper than alcohol with better effects. A small minority indicated that they were probably addicted to it. Other reasons given included the relief of pain and psychological dependence.
When asked from where they obtained drugs 27 per cent of respondents indicated that their source of supply was a regular dealer; 53 per cent said friends; 7 per cent, college; and 4 per cent, on the street. When asked about the immediate dangers associated with the drug of their choice, the five main dangers cited were addiction, death, the tendency to use heavier drugs, health problems and loss of control and consciousness. Other factors included the cost of drugs, the fear of prosecution by the Garda Síochána, the fear of being caught by their parents, and the fear that they would be taken advantage of or injured while under the influence.
A total of 57 per cent of respondents indicated that they had a bad experience. Those who had a bad experience with LSD had suffered from hallucinations lasting up to two hours. One respondent indicated that an LSD trip had lasted up to 12 hours with flashbacks which had lasted between three to seven hours. Those who had a bad experience with ecstasy had suffered from hyperactivity with jaw and tongue spasms and a negative come down, including extreme paranoia, palpitations, sweats and terror of friends. Loss of appetite, a feeling of weakness and breathing difficulties often lasted into the following day. One respondent indicated that his breathing had stopped and that his rib cage and upper abdomen muscles had arrested. He believed his experience was due to a bad tablet. He subsequently gave it up. A bad acid trip can last eight to nine hours. One respondent indicated that he had a ten to 15 minute flashback while on a bus. Those who had a bad experience while taking magic mushrooms had suffered from paranoia lasting several weeks. Other respondents indicated that they had physically injured themselves when mixing magic mushrooms and acid. Others suffered from constant vomiting when mixing alcohol and ecstasy, loss of sensation in limbs for 30 to 40 minutes when mixing alcohol and cannabis and a feeling of weakness and panic attacks for 15 to 20 minutes when mixing alcohol, cannabis and poppers.
A total of 61 per cent of respondents indicated that the policies of dance clubs were not safe; 86 per cent indicated that ecstasy was part of the club scene; 83 per cent indicated that a public campaign would not stop them taking drugs; while 41 per cent indicated that they considered media reporting to be sensational, 40 per cent, informative, and 19 per cent, too emotional.
I refer to these figures because, when dealing with this problem, people tend to associate it with a certain socio-economic group or parts of cities. Undoubtedly, drugs such as heroin, which accounts for only 1 per cent of use in colleges, is endemic in parts of the capital city. It is appropriate that the public is concerned about the drug problem which is a blight on communities. It is not only a city issue. It affects rural areas also. Drugs are available in most rural towns and villages. One can report it to the Garda but people are reluctant to name the individuals involved.
I appreciate the need to introduce the legislation to deal with drug trafficking and dealers. It is most important that the drug barons and those making enormous sums of money from drug trafficking are caught and the force of law applied to them. We must ensure the laws do not contain loopholes. I am glad the Bill highlights the vital distinction between the position of addicts who are accused of being in possession of drugs and people who deal drugs for the sole purpose of profit at the expense of misfortunate addicts.
It is also important to recognise that, regardless of the seriousness of the problem in communities, the fundamental rules of law and democracy must be applied at all times. Everything must be done in accordance with constitutional provisions. The Bill is extensive and a number of sections could be questioned in terms of their severity and the democratic freedom of individuals. The Minister must take particular note of this aspect. Reactionary Bills were introduced in the past following unusual cases. Subsequently, legislation that was introduced in a hurry was successfully challenged on constitutional grounds and it was necessary for the Houses of the Oireachtas to change the statute. The Bill reduces the ministerial power which currently exists and I hope the Minister will explain why this action is being taken in relation to the offence. I welcome the Bill and look forward to its speedy passage.