Written Answers. - National Drugs Strategy.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

162 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress made to date in implementing the new national drugs strategy launched in May 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3687/03]

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.

The national advisory committee on drugs is currently overseeing a three year research programme on the extent, nature, causes and effects of drug use in Ireland and has made considerable progress in this regard. With regard to the actions in the strategy relevant to the NACD, the Deputy should note that the homeless population research study has been commissioned and a draft report is expected in the autumn. The negotiations on the Traveller population research are currently ongoing and it is planned to commence work shortly. A longitudinal study on treatment outcomes commenced in November and a review of the harm reduction mechanisms for injecting drug users in an Irish context is also under way with a draft literature review due by April.
In relation to the regional drugs task forces, nominations have been sought from the various sectors, including statutory, community and voluntary. In addition, the national drugs strategy team has prepared guidelines on their operation in consultation the relevant sectors and agencies. The team met with the interim co-ordinators on 28 January to discuss the guidelines and the inaugural meetings of the task forces. The aim is to convene the first meeting of each task force by the end of March 2003.
My Department also has responsibility for the work of the local drugs task forces, which were established in 1997 in the areas experiencing the worst levels of drug misuse. Currently, there are 14 local drugs task forces, 12 in Dublin, one in Cork, and one in Bray, which was, designated an LDTF area in 2000. All the LDTFs, with the exception of Bray, are currently implementing their second round of action plans and, to date, over €14.5 million has been allocated. In total, the Government has allocated over €51 million to implement the projects contained in the plans of the task forces since 1997. The Deputy should note that in addition to the moneys available under the action plans, €12.7 million was provided under the premises initiative, which is designed to meet the accommodation needs of community based drugs projects, the majority of which are in LDTF areas. To date, over €11 million has been allocated to projects under this initiative.
The Deputy should also note that the young people's facilities and services fund operates in the 14 local drugs task force areas and in a number of other urban centres, in Limerick, Galway, Carlow and Waterford. The main aim of the fund is to attract at risk young people in disadvantaged areas into recreational facilities and activities and divert them away from the dangers of substance abuse. An amount of approximately €59 million has been allocated to date under the first round of funding. It is intended to submit a further progress report on the strategy to the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion in April 2003.