As the Deputy is aware, my Department has overall responsibility for co-ordinating the implementation of the national drugs strategy 2001-2008. The strategy aims to tackle the drug problem in the most comprehensive way ever undertaken in this country and contains 100 individual actions, under the four pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research, to be implemented by a range of Departments and agencies. The strategy provides for an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of the overall framework by end 2004. This will examine the progress being made in achieving the overall key strategic goals set out in the strategy and will enable priorities for further action to be identified and a re-focusing of the strategy, if necessary.
Since it was launched in May 2001, considerable progress has been made by Departments and agencies in implementing the actions set out for them in the strategy. The inter-departmental group on drugs, IDG, which I chair, meets regularly to assess progress by Departments and agencies in achieving the targets set for them and any obstacles to the implementation of any of the actions are brought to light at these meetings. Six-monthly progress reports on the strategy are provided to the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion, the most recent of which was presented in September last. In terms of progress, it should be noted that guidelines to assist schools in the development of a drugs policy have also been developed and were issued to all primary and post primary schools in May 2002; the Department of Education and Science, which a is now represented on all local drugs task forces, is recruiting extra support staff to enable the delivery of substance misuse prevention programme in all schools in the next three years.
Schools in the local drugs task force areas will be prioritised in this context; a joint substance use policy committee from the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science has also been convened and is, at present, addressing the supports needed to assist in the implementation of the guidelines by schools; the Department of Health and Children has established a cross-sectoral committee to develop an on-going national awareness campaign. This campaign, which is due to be launched in March, will target a number of groups, including young people; in addition, the Department chairs a group tasked with the development of a protocol for the treatment of under-18s and good progress is being made in this area; and the report of the benzodiazepine working group was published in December last. The Department of Health and Children will oversee the implementation of its recommendations.
Considerable progress is also being made as regards increasing the number of methadone treatment places. The number of places at the end of October 2002, the latest date for which confirmed figures are available, was 6,446. The equivalent figure at the end of December 2000 was 5,032.