Addiction Services: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]
The following motion was moved by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan on Tuesday, 2 October 2012:
That Dáil Éireann:
— the scale of the problem of addiction throughout Ireland and the increasing demands on services;
— that poly-drug use has increased significantly due to the increase in the accessibility and range of dangerous substances, both illegal and unregulated;
— the increased risk to individuals using substances and lethal combinations of substances with respect to overdose, fatality and long-term ill health;
— the numbers of drug and alcohol related deaths each year are more than twice that of the numbers of deaths on our roads;
— the strong association between drug-alcohol abuse and suicide, and also accidental death;
— the increased use of technology in accessing harmful substances;
— the continuous on-street dealing in disadvantaged communities, the levels of intimidation and fear because of violence by drug gangs and the increased availability of firearms;
— that alcohol has been identified as a contributory factor in 90% of public order offences as recorded under the police using leading systems effectively, PULSE, system and alcohol related crime costs the Irish State almost €1.2 billion a year;
— that alcohol and drug related illness costs the health system a further €1.2 billion yearly;
— the link between economic and social disadvantage, including early school leaving, unemployment, housing conditions and problem drug-alcohol addiction and crime;
— the increase in the number of children with need for child protection because of families’ problems with drug and alcohol addiction;
— the links between mental health, homelessness and addiction; and
— the unacceptable levels of drug abuse in our prisons and the increasing emergence of ‘process’ addictions in gambling, food, sex, Internet usage and other compulsive behaviours;
— the work of the drugs task forces, the partnership model, the pillars of treatment and rehabilitation, supply control, prevention and research and family support;
— the work and commitment of the young people’s facilities and services fund in targeting those most at risk of drug abuse in funding services and facilities in many areas, particularly to those most vulnerable;
— the work of the Dublin north inner city community policing forum as an example of best practice in collaborative work between the communities, local authority and Garda to resolve local drug related and anti-social behaviour issues;
— the work of the various groups, Departments and agencies, the community and voluntary sectors and others in producing the national substance misuse strategy report;
— the work of the community and voluntary sectors and the projects in engaging those in addiction and in recovery from addiction in services;
— the work of fellowships and 12 step programmes for those in addiction and those affected by the addiction of a loved one; and
— the improvement in best practice and the range of treatment, rehabilitation and recovery for those in addiction; and
calls on the Government to:
— prioritise addiction as a health issue and not primarily as a criminal issue and ensure the necessary allocation of resources;
— continue to support and enhance the local, regional and national structures of the drugs strategy and drugs task forces involving community, voluntary and statutory services in the co-ordinated delivery of responses at individual, family and community level to the benefit of those most affected by problems of addiction;
— improve supports for those high risk lower socioeconomic populations experiencing underlying social disadvantage leading to addiction problems, and in particular to improve supports in areas of health care, education, housing and employment opportunities;
— improve care planning and case management for individuals in addiction treatment, rehabilitation and recovery, as envisaged by successive national drugs strategies;
— increase the availability and affordability of residential rehabilitation, including non-abstinence based options and respite for highly vulnerable individuals in addiction, particularly young people under 18 years of age, mothers of young children, individuals affected by mental health issues and homeless individuals;
— introduce legislation to deal with Internet sourcing and accessing of drugs, to apply the harmonised EU definitions of a medicinal product to a new psychoactive substance so that national medicines agencies can prohibit its unauthorised importation, marketing or distribution;
— provide clear oversight and leadership so as to ensure the implementation of the national substance misuse report, including minimum alcohol pricing, reduction in alcohol advertising and sponsorship, greater health promotion programmes to the entire population on the dangers of alcohol misuse and abuse and to indicate a timeframe for implementing the recommendations of the report;
— ensure that, while acknowledging the stabilising effect of methadone, it is seen as part of the treatment process and not a stand-alone treatment;
— implement the review of the methadone treatment protocol, ensuring timely availability of access to treatment through primary health care;
— fully implement the hepatitis C strategy in the areas of surveillance, prevention, screening and laboratory testing and treatment, particularly affecting injecting drug users;
— open the debate on decriminalisation of illegal drugs and safer consumption;
— make available the assets of drug related crime through the Criminal Assets Bureau to counter the negative impacts of drug related crime and to be used in support of communities in tackling drug-alcohol abuse and misuse;
— refrain from further cuts to the services provided by the community and voluntary sectors for those in addiction and continue to support the special community employment, CE, schemes for those in drug rehabilitation;
— ensure that the ring-fenced betting taxes, proposed to be re-invested in the racing industry, includes a contribution to resourcing programmes addressing gambling addiction;
— integrate mental health services with addiction services in responding to dual diagnosis of individuals, affected by substance misuse, experiencing mental health difficulties in recognition of previous recommendations of the national advisory committee on drugs;
— demand that prison programmes provide, at a minimum, parity of esteem with community programmes with respect to addiction services to minimise harm to individuals in prison and that integration of prisoner release dates with community-based programmes is improved to lessen the harm done to individuals with addiction histories resulting in unco-ordinated release; and
— promote innovative programmes that will support mental health and addiction issues such as mindfulness and applied suicide intervention support training, ASIST.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
— the scale of the problem of addiction throughout Ireland and the increasing demands on services;
— that poly-drug use has increased significantly due to the increase in the accessibility and range of dangerous substances, both illegal and unregulated;
— the increased risk to individuals using substances and lethal combinations of substances with respect to overdose, fatality and long-term ill health;
— the numbers of drug and alcohol related deaths each year are more than twice that of the numbers of deaths on our roads;
— the strong association between drug/alcohol abuse and suicide, and also accidental death;
— the increased use of technology in accessing harmful substances;
— the continuous on-street dealing in disadvantaged communities, the levels of intimidation and fear because of violence by drug gangs and the availability of firearms;
— that alcohol has been identified as a contributory factor in 90% of public order offences as recorded under the Police Using Leading Systems Effectively (PULSE) system and alcohol related crime costs the State almost €1.2 billion a year;
— that alcohol and drug related illness costs the health system a further €1.2 billion yearly;
— the link between economic and social disadvantage, including early school leaving, unemployment, housing conditions and problem drug/alcohol addiction and crime;
— the number of children with need for child protection because of families’ problems with drug and alcohol addiction;
— the links between mental health, homelessness and addiction; and
— the unacceptable levels of drug abuse in our prisons;
— the work of the statutory, voluntary and community sectors, the partnership model, the pillars of treatment and rehabilitation, supply control, prevention and research and family support;
— the role of the Young People’s Facilities and Services Fund in targeting those most at risk of drug abuse in funding services and facilities in many areas, particularly to those most vulnerable;
— the work of the Community Policing Forums in promoting collaborative work between the communities, local authorities and Gardaí to resolve local drug related and antisocial behaviour issues;
— the work of the various groups, government departments and agencies, the community and voluntary sectors and others in producing the National Substance Misuse Strategy Report;
— the work of the community and voluntary sectors in engaging those in addiction and in recovery from addiction in services; and
— the improvement in best practice and the range of treatment, rehabilitation and recovery for those in addiction; and supports the Government in its determination to tackle the issue of substance misuse and addiction through:
— continuing to support local, regional and national structures of the National Drugs Strategy involving community, voluntary and statutory services in the coordinated delivery of responses at individual, family and community level to the benefit of those most affected by problems of addiction;
— taking measures to strengthen the effectiveness of Drugs Task Forces;
— taking progressive measures, such as expanding the provision of needle exchange services around the country;
— continuing to implement the Irish Prison Service’s Drugs Policy and Strategy, ‘Keeping Drugs out of Prison’, to develop drug treatment services and enhance supply reduction measures across the State’s prisons;
— supporting the continued efforts of An Garda Síochána in tackling organised crime and those involved in drug dealing at local level in our communities; and
— its intention to bring forward a co-ordinated National Substance Misuse Strategy.”
-(Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Alex White).
First, I compliment the Technical Group for bringing forward this motion. It is timely, as a new Minister of State has been appointed. I offer him comhghairdeas and wish him well in his new position. He has responsibility for the implementation of the national drugs strategy. I hope he gives it more attention than some of his predecessors, who did not give it sufficient attention.
Drug use is, first and foremost, a problem for the individual user. Most drug use is dealt with privately. Some people go on to lead long, healthy and productive lives but, sadly, for many others this is not the case. Unfortunately, we have a drugs problem in many communities again. It becomes a problem or the problem is compounded as a result of high unemployment, poor housing conditions, low level of secondary education completion, the availability of a wide range of drugs in the community, drug related intimidation and criminal activity. We accept there are no easy answers for tackling the drugs crisis, but experience shows that the responses we develop to tackle communities' drugs problems must be holistic, integrated and partnership based. The approach must be community based and involve the people most affected by the problem in finding solutions that work for their communities. They must be adequately resourced.
If we understand that communities' drugs problems developed from an array of problems and other socioeconomic issues, the responses to the drugs crisis must also work to strengthen communities in tackling these related problems. It is imperative that the problems in local areas are responded to through the involvement of those most affected, that is, the drug users, their families and their communities. The core of previous successes was the partnership approach. This has been eroded by the budget cuts last year and the disengagement on the part of Government Departments and some of the statutory agencies.
The State was to the fore in its approach to tackling the drugs crisis in the 1990s. I give credit to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte who, as Minister of State in 1996, published his report which led to the first national drugs strategy. He put structures in place that were rooted in the communities most affected and which had links through to the Department of the Taoiseach. The approach was globally unique - a Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy and local drugs task forces developing strategies and accessing funding from the national drugs strategy team. Unfortunately for local communities, in recent years the drugs crisis has slipped down the Government's agenda and has become an afterthought in the programme for Government, with services and resources cut back to the bone in many cases. Whole communities have been abandoned, like in the 1980s and 1990s. It is vital that the Minister re-prioritises the drugs crisis and I appeal to him to do so.
The evidence is clear. There is an increased level in gangland crime. So far this year the number of people shot dead exceeds by two the figure for all of 2011. Within the last couple of weeks the violence has reached my constituency of County Laois with the shooting of Gerard Eglington in Portarlington on 25 September. He was shot dead in front of two young children. A measured and mature response is required, not the hysterical response one sees from some people and to which we have grown accustomed in the past. The Garda, drugs services and communities need resources urgently, but all the Minister and the Government have offered is reviews and cuts. We do not want excuses; this must be resourced now.
The cut in public spending between 2008 and 2012 is 2.82%, but the budget for drugs initiatives was slashed by 29%. This has put enormous strains on drugs services. More people are presenting with poly-drug use, yet there are fewer services and resources to respond to this. My constituency of Laois-Offaly is part of the midland regional drugs task force. Its funding has been cut from €1.07 million in 2010 to €870,000 this year. More cuts are expected next year. The cuts should be reversed with immediate effect. They do not even make economic sense because everybody knows this problem has a huge economic cost. For maximum benefit, this funding must not be spread across whole regions because there are pockets that are more affected than others. It must be directed to the communities where there is the greatest need.
The Minister of State's predecessor, Deputy Róisín Shortall, reviewed the structures of the local and regional drugs task forces. The review appears to be hidden somewhere in the Department. The time for reviews is long past. We must see the report. Sinn Féin will continue to work with communities and continue to highlight in fora such as this House the drugs crisis and the problems it is causing. Communities are demanding a response from the Minister of State, Deputy White, and the Government.
I commend Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and the other Deputies who brought forward this comprehensive motion on the serious but neglected issue of drug addiction in this country. I recall and pay tribute to the courageous efforts of our deceased colleague, former Deputy Tony Gregory, to address this scourge in his community. They were, and are, rightly acclaimed. I agree with the call in the motion to prioritise addiction as a health issue, not primarily as a criminal issue, and to ensure the necessary allocation of resources.
Experience shows that economic recessions are usually followed by a drugs crisis. It is therefore essential that the Government makes a significant investment in the fight against drugs. It is economically prudent to do so. In fact, it cannot afford to not do so. Failure to properly invest in and fully implement a comprehensive drugs strategy gives rise to mammoth costs for the Exchequer. The drugs crisis incurs huge costs, including for prison places, crime fighting and accident and emergency departments, not to mention the human cost to individuals, families, communities and society.
In 2009, Sinn Féin launched its priorities for the national drugs strategy for 2009 to 2016. We believe they are still very relevant today. Cuts in funding to local and regional drugs task forces which have taken place in recent years are nothing short of a disgrace and an abandonment of the State's duties to its citizens. These task forces are the front line in the battle against drugs. They have been abandoned by the State in the face of increased intimidation from drug peddlers peddling new and ever more addictive drugs.
The main priority in any approach to tackling drugs must focus on early intervention and prevention. The communities and families at risk from drugs are easily identifiable, and this is where resources must be targeted. Approximately €14 million were seized under the proceeds of crime legislation between 2006 and 2010. We have asked the Government on numerous occasions to retain this money for community development purposes. This is the money taken from drug dealers and criminals who are profiting from the communities they are decimating.
It is Sinn Féin's view that this money should be set aside for the communities that have been worst affected by the drugs trade, for example, for use as a funding mechanism for the local drugs task force to undertake short to medium-term projects. The Government has cut community funding in general but the current legislation allows for all money collected by the Criminal Assets Bureau to be returned to the Exchequer in accordance with the provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Acts 1996 and 2005. The funds are then paid into the Government Central Fund, from which the Government draws its expenditure. I appeal to the Minister of State at the Department of Health, whom I wish well in his new responsibilities, for the Government to show the political will to fund these much-needed community organisations. It could be done very easily by amending the Proceeds of Crime Acts. It is a step we in Sinn Féin would not only welcome but enthusiastically support.
I reaffirm Sinn Féin's call on the Government to introduce this mechanism to fund local drugs task forces and community groups which are at the coalface of dealing with the scourge presented by the drugs epidemic in these communities.
I also congratulate the new Minister of State. This is his second day in the job but he has already taken business in the House three times. He has hit the ground running.
I support many of the ideas outlined in the motion but I am concerned and shocked that a message would go out from the Dáil that there are Members who wish to discuss the decriminalisation of illegal drugs. I am concerned that people for whom I have huge regard, including Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan, Finian McGrath, Mattie McGrath, Shane Ross, Stephen Donnelly, John Halligan and Seamus Healy, would subscribe to a message that would be sent out from Dáil Éireann telling the people that we wish to discuss the decriminalisation of drugs. It is a bad message to open the debate on the decriminalisation of illegal drugs and safe consumption. We must think about the message we are sending out. The Criminal Justice Act 1994 is clear. It carries a sentence of up to seven years if a person uses such substances and, more importantly, drug trafficking carries an even heavier sentence, up to life imprisonment, and rightly so.
I recognise the scale of the problem, as referred to in the Government amendment, including polydrug use and the strong association between drug and alcohol abuse and self-harm and suicide. I support the drugs strategy involving community and voluntary groups to provide a more co-ordinated response to individuals, families and the community. The reality is that society is being devastated and steered in a particular way by drug lords and international gangs, as well as local thugs, for profit on the backs of young, vulnerable people and communities at risk. If we look at the root cause of addiction to illegal drugs, the State faces a greater threat from drug lords, locally and internationally, than from terrorists. In 2012, there have been significant seizures of illegal drugs, including cocaine, heroin and ecstasy, with a street value of millions of euro. These have been confiscated by the Garda to prevent Ireland becoming a gateway to Europe, including a seizure valued at €800,000 which the Garda is satisfied was destined for the Irish market. What do the Garda, communities and those working in a voluntary capacity think about the message we are sending out by wishing to discuss the decriminalisation of illegal drugs and their safe consumption?
We in this House from all parties and across the political divide must unite and send the clearest possible message that there will be no legalising in any of our communities of illegal drugs as proscribed by the Minister for Justice and Law Reform. The devastation they have caused in families and to personal health, in many cases leading to murder, has had a generational effect in many parts of the country. There was a time when the use of illegal drugs was restricted to particular areas, mostly in Dublin. Now, however, this problem is being experienced in every parish, village, town and city in Ireland.
I would like to spend more time on this but I will conclude by saying I spent the past 35 years of my life working in the voluntary sector with youth groups, sporting organisations and youth clubs. What message are we sending to the soccer, Gaelic and boxing clubs, youth groups, and those who mark pitches and put up nets, raise funds and even hold cake sales to help provide services and facilities for young people? We need to send out a clear message that Dáil Éireann is resolved not to legalise illegal drugs. That message must go out tonight and that is why I am calling, even at this late stage, with an hour left in this debate, for all Members to consider the message that will go out from that one element of this Private Members' motion.
I also wish the new Minister of State the best of luck in his new job. I welcome the motion on the basis that it will open up a much wider debate and allow more people to express their opinions. Tackling Ireland's drugs problem requires a multifaceted approach. While some aspects of the current system simply do not work, much good work is being done at community level in programmes that discourage young people from taking drugs and point to the dangers of excessive alcohol use. Recent months have seen substantial hauls of illegal drugs, especially of cannabis. The large supply chain reflects a significant demand, and it is only through tackling demand, targeting resources and imposing stricter penalties for supplying that Ireland will get to grips with this issue.
I am open to any debate on drugs, but before we talk about the problems, we should try to come up with solutions. I do not believe, however, in legalising drugs. I come from a youth work background and I know we cannot continue to pretend the current strategy is working, because it is not. Drugs exist and continue to get into this country and to be abused in a way that is unacceptable.
The motion calls on the Government to prioritise addiction as a health issue, to continue to support local and regional drugs strategies, improve support for socially disadvantaged people at greatest risk of addiction, introduce legislation to deal with the Internet sourcing of and access to drugs, and promote innovative programmes such as ASIST and Mindfulness that deal with mental health and addiction issues. All those are worthy ideals.
The scale of addiction in Ireland is great and the main drug causing devastation in Irish families is alcohol. The number of drug and alcohol related deaths each year is more than twice the number of deaths on the roads. Hundreds of children are in care because of their families' problems with drug and alcohol addiction. Alcohol is a significant factor in a number of suicides, and self-harm is responsible for huge numbers of assaults and public order incidents. The figures go on and on. Alcohol increases the risks of more than 60 medical conditions such as cancer and is associated with large numbers of acute hospital beds being occupied every night. A quarter of injuries presenting to emergency departments are related to drug and alcohol abuse.
In recent years, Ireland has seen a huge reduction in the carnage on the roads. Road deaths decreased from 411 in 2001 to 186 last year. The success of the strategy employed in tackling road deaths must be examined and used in the fight against drugs. While enforcement of legislation played a key role in the fight to create safer roads, a sea-change in the driving culture was a key element in that success. Effecting a cultural change is particularly difficult and, for road deaths, it was tackled on a number of fronts, including high visibility enforcement of the law, education programmes in schools and increased awareness of the statistics county by county and month by month. Advertising, especially graphic television advertising, effected a cultural change in this area.
At present, I believe that through the DrinkAware campaign, the drinks industry has the perfect vehicle for effecting little or no change. Advertising cheap wine in an off-licence with a tag underneath encouraging people to drink responsibly is a waste of time. Members should consider the television advertisement currently running on our screens that encourages people to drink at their own pace. While I agree with the message, it simply shows young people in a trendy setting drinking and having a good time. The only downside to so doing was that drinking a little too fast was the point from which the real harm was coming and perhaps they should slow down a little and enjoy their beautiful surroundings. Members should contrast that message with the image of the young man drinking and having fun with his mates after a match who then gets into a car, only to plough into a garden in which a young boy playing football is mowed down. The advertising by the Road Safety Authority, which is not a vested interest, is much more graphic and appears to be much more effective. Perhaps the time has come to create a drugs awareness authority with a remit and budget similar to the Road Safety Authority in the knowledge that some of the cultural change may be effected and the State would save billions in terms of health costs, policing costs and the creation of a safer and more pleasant community.
I wish to raise a couple of matters that are part of the remit of the national drugs strategy. One pertains to a conversation I had with an acquaintance who works in the area of counselling people with a drug addiction. My acquaintance, who works on the ground, raised three issues with me that this person considered to be very important. First, my acquaintance thought it important that the work on the alcohol policy initiated by the former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, should continue. Much work has gone into that particular policy and while this motion pertains to the national drugs strategy, it is important to have joined-up thinking and co-operation in respect of both alcohol and drug addiction. Essentially, it is important to combine the expertise because there is overlap in this regard, as the basic issue is addiction. The second point was that more must be done in respect of homelessness, which again must be linked to measures to address alcohol and drug addiction. Third, I understand there is a gap in services with regard to pre-detoxification support. For a start, there are not enough beds for detoxification purposes. Moreover, while people who have decided to undergo detoxification treatment await a bed, there is not enough support for them beforehand. There is neither enough pre-detoxification support nor sufficient aftercare support on completion of treatment for addiction. These points are derived from a person with experience on the ground.
Another point I wish to raise, which is covered by the national drugs strategy and the drugs task forces, pertains to dealing with crime and antisocial behaviour that may be connected with drug addiction, but which also may give rise to events within a community that might lead people to stay in addiction. In this context, I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy White, on his new position and wish him well. However, one issue to which I wish to draw his attention is a matter that had been drawn to the attention of his predecessor but which has not been resolved. I refer to four community safety forums, namely, North Clondalkin Community Safety Forum, South West Clondalkin Community Safety Forum, Fettercairn Estate Management and Killinarden Estate Management. Heretofore, they have been largely funded out of county council funds channelled through the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. However, that money has been withdrawn because it is more appropriate that it be funded as part of the national drugs strategy. However, the issue about funding came up in South Dublin County Council earlier this year and while I acknowledge it has been resolved until the end of this year, the matter will come up again and I bring it to the Minister of State's attention for that reason. The council stated that the workers, that is, the people who are funded under this project, have been an asset to the local communities, the council and all other relevant State agencies in terms of providing information from within the local community, organising clean-ups, summer projects, events and local policing fora, working on joint projects generally funded in the main by councils, as well as providing a representational role on a number of fora in the area. I am particularly familiar with North Clondalkin Community Safety Forum, which is highly proactive. There are meetings to which residents come along and raise their concerns, after which there are follow-ups by the project worker. My understanding is the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government considers that such fora should be under the purview of the drugs strategy. When continuation of funding was announced earlier this year by the aforementioned Department, it stated it should be looked at under the review of the national drugs strategy structures. I hope the Minister of State will consider this and will find sustainable funding for the future because otherwise, the projects will collapse, which would be a terrible loss to those communities.
This is a timely motion, given the appointment of my colleague, Deputy White, as the new Minister of State with responsibility for drug and alcohol policy. The media discussion in recent weeks has been all about the politics of health and I thank Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan for giving Members this opportunity to return to the policy and vision they have for the health service and, in particular, to focus on addiction services. I wish to take this opportunity to commend the former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, on her work in this area during her brief tenure. In particular, I thank her for the support she offered to me in respect of drug projects in Ballyfermot, which I represent. Deputy Shortall was not the first Labour Party Minister to address this issue and nor will she be the last. In 1997, the then Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, set up 13 local drugs task forces, including one in Ballyfermot. These task forces form the central plank of intervention in many communities. The Government has made €31 million available to support the activities of drugs task forces this year, which is very welcome. The job of reviewing these task forces now falls to the new Minister of State, Deputy White. This review will seek to strengthen the effectiveness of the drugs task forces and improve accountability and I wish the Minister of State every success in that role.
The problem of addiction cannot be tackled by the Department of Health alone. The national addiction strategy and the programme for Government recognise this and with this in mind, the previous Government mainstreamed funding for community drug projects across a variety of Departments. However, since 2008 when Ministers were faced with reduced budgets, it was such mainstream funding, which was not considered to be a core activity of those Departments, which was the first to go. The Minister of State, Deputy White, alluded to the streamlining of funding arrangements for community drug projects as part of his review and this would bring welcome clarity and security to projects. The Ballyfermot Star project, which provides much-needed counselling and support services to substance abusers and their families is one such project that lost its mainstream funding from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government last year. Consequently, it was necessary to campaign last year to secure the project a one-year reprieve by sourcing the necessary funding through the Minister, Deputy Hogan, and Dublin City Council, thereby securing the position of three key members of staff for the Ballyfermot Star project in 2012. As a new year approaches, the future of such projects again is in doubt. I hope the new Minister of State will prioritise and protect this most valuable service, recognise its value as a template for interventions in other communities and ensure the necessary funding will be made available in the budget for 2013.
I wish the Minister of State, Deputy White, every success in tackling the scourge of drug and alcohol misuse in society.
Thank you, Deputy, but I am afraid I must call your colleague-----
It is an important issue and I look forward to working with the Minister of State, Deputy White, in the coming year to tackle the problem of addiction that faces Dublin and so many communities nationwide.
Deputy Dowds has three minutes. I am sorry it is only three minutes.
First, I support the remarks of Deputy Tuffy in respect of the community policing fora, both in the constituency we share of Dublin Mid-West and in Dublin South-West. I hope it will be possible to address these matters. I welcome strongly the appointment of Deputy White as Minister of State in the Department of Health. It is good to have a colleague and friend there and I wish him every success in his onerous task-----
-----which includes the subject of tonight's motion although it goes far beyond that.
In the few moments available to me, I will confine my remarks to the subject of alcohol abuse.
We have a longstanding unhealthy relationship with alcohol in this country and it is therefore more difficult to address than many of the problems with which we are confronted. A few facts should make it clear to everyone in this House that we must wake up to this problem. For example, in our country one person dies from alcohol-related causes every seven hours. By this time tomorrow another three people will have died. One in four deaths among young men is due to alcohol and alcohol is the cause of twice as many deaths in Ireland as all other drugs combined. Alcohol-related deaths doubled between 1995 and 2004. The cost of alcohol to our health system is €1.2 billion per annum. At this stage I believe most people know that 2,000 hospital beds are occupied at any given time to treat alcohol-related injuries and illnesses. According to the Garda PULSE system, alcohol is a contributory factor in 97% of public order offences. The total cost of alcohol-related crime is €1.2 billion. Any one of these statistics on its own should be enough to provoke action. Taken together they show that our society is crying out for a comprehensive Bill to tackle alcohol abuse. There are many more damning statistics which show that we have a major problem with alcohol. I welcome that the new Minister of State has already committed to introduce an alcohol Bill as soon as possible.
It is vital to tackle the abuse of alcohol on an all-island basis. Conversations are taking place between Department of Health officials and their counterparts in Northern Ireland. If we are to tackle issues such as below-cost selling, there needs to be uniformity on both sides of the Border in order to deliver more effective resolutions. The time for talk is over; it is time for action.
I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy White, on his appointment. I also congratulate Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and the Technical Group on introducing this very important motion, probably one of the most important Private Members' motions we have had for a long time. I found last night's speech by the Minister of State quite devastating. He outlined that there are 14,500 opiate users in the country and gave figures for the number of people drinking alcohol in a harmful manner. Other Members spoke about what we all know, the violence, the anti-social behaviour, the suicides, the road deaths and injuries, domestic violence, the cost to our health system, the productivity losses in the workplace and so on. This is pervasive, invasive and destructive.
As Deputy Dowds said, we need to take action. This week we speak on this topic. Next week we will speak about something else. Tonight I am calling for the establishment of a committee similar to the children's committee, a standing committee to focus on drugs and alcohol alone. The committee needs to be given a remit and a time limit in which to do some work to support the Minister of State and the various task forces which are doing great work. That would allow this House to remain continually focused on this awful issue. The committee on children's rights was very successful - it worked and it delivered. This issue is as important, if not more important.
Many contributors to this debate have rightly referred to the disadvantaged young person who is using drugs and whose life is ruined. We empathise with that and know how awful it is. The Minister of State might know the answer to this question. What is the extent of drug use among the middle class, the well off, the people with money, the people who have the pinstriped suits? A few years ago a controversial book was published entitled High Society by Justine Delaney Wilson. It indicated that large amounts of money were being turned over by well-heeled, wealthy, middle-class people. If that is the case, they are feeding this industry and this culture, which is something we need to investigate and know about. It is not just people who are disadvantaged but it applies across the board, as the anecdotal evidence will confirm. It does not respect social class, wealth or anything else.
There has been talk about legalisation and decriminalisation. We should look to the experiments that have taken place in other countries in Europe where the results are mixed. Clearly the current strategy is not working. The agencies are doing the best they can and large amounts of illegal drugs are being confiscated. However, we do not know how much is getting through. Anecdotal evidence would suggest it is very large. The report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children should be implemented in full. We need to consider a ban on the sale of spirits to anyone under the age of 21. We need to look at the culture and our approach to alcohol. We often hear someone say: "He's a great man - he drank ten pints last night." That kind of thinking must change. This debate should not be the end of this issue for this House but the start.
Ed McMahon stated that God invented whiskey to keep the Irish from ruling the world. However, today we have many vices other than the demon drink, including prescription drugs, illegal drugs, gambling and smoking. Nearly every family in Ireland is affected by some form of addiction. It causes serious problems within families which can be devastating. It can lead to ill health, secrecy and betrayal. It can lead to serious financial strain, depression, mental health issues, violence, prison, marriage break-up and even homelessness.
I note that the emphasis of the motion is not on smoking. However, for me smoking addiction is the most serious health issue we are facing. One in two smokers dies from smoking. It is the biggest cause of preventative death, bigger than the next six combined. Fifteen people die from smoking every day. It is the equivalent of two jumbo jets full of promising Irish people crashing every year.
The Office of Tobacco Control states that 24% of Irish people smoke. However, the Irish Heart Foundation states that in the lower socioeconomic group the figure is approximately 50%. It breaks my heart to see young people smoking - young people who will become addicted to tobacco. Irish Heart Foundation studies indicate that 12% of school-aged children are current smokers. Smoking is a phenomenon when children start under the age of 18. Also alarming is 2001 research indicating that 21% of women in Ireland smoke during pregnancy. Smoking during pregnancy is often done - believe it are not - to prevent weight gain. This is a scary phenomenon: mothers are putting their babies in jeopardy. Our striving for image perfection has serious consequences.
I commend the Minister, Deputy Reilly, and Senator Crown who introduced recommendations to penalise smoking in cars with children on board. Secondary smoke has harmful effects. It is reported that in children, second-hand smoke causes the following: ear infections; frequent and severe asthma attacks; respiratory problems, for example coughing, sneezing and shortness of breath; and respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia, not to mention the long-term effects. County councils are also introducing smoke-free regulations for parents minding children in playgrounds, which is a welcome development.
Children should not associate play time with smoking. Step by step, we must denormalise smoking. I was particularly disappointed to hear of a well known Irish band singing at a tobacco industry-sponsored event in Malaysia. These people are role models for young people. They have the power to dictate what is cool and are seriously influential. As such, they have a responsibility to their fans to lead the way.
I commend the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, on the introduction in 2013 of graphic warnings on cigarette packages. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, has often stated that were cigarettes invented today they would be illegal. We need to take a departmental approach to tackling this issue. Only through the Departments of Health, Finance and Justice and Equality working together will we fully tackle this issue.
I wish to share time with Deputies Tom Fleming, Catherine Murphy, Finian McGrath, Mick Wallace and Mattie McGrath.
Is that agreed? Agreed. The Deputies have five minutes each.
I welcome the opportunity to support this Private Members' motion. I compliment Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, who has an intimate knowledge of this issue, on her preparation of this comprehensive motion. I am disappointed to note the Government has tabled an amendment to the motion. I do not believe this is the type of issue on which the House should divide. It should have been possible to achieve unanimous agreement on this motion. I call on the Minister of State, Deputy White, even at this late stage, to consider withdrawing the Government's amendment.
The motion states: "That Dáil Éireann recognises the scale of the problem of addiction throughout Ireland and the increasing demands on services." Drugs are now available not alone in our cities and towns, but in our villages, parishes and at every crossroads throughout the country. Obviously, the demand on services arising in this regard, is phenomenal. While I agree with Deputy Stanton that drug addiction is a cross-community affliction and problem, there is no doubt that there is a clear and established link between drug addiction and economic and social disadvantage, early school-leaving, unemployment and so on.
I compliment and congratulate the various agencies involved in this area, in particular the community and voluntary sector, in terms of their assisting young people through what are very difficult circumstances for them. I commend the various community drug initiatives in my own constituency, including the Waterford regional youth service and Tipperary youth service, on their ongoing work in this area. It is important facilities such as playgrounds, sporting areas and so on are made available to communities and particularly to young people. As stated in the motion, it is possible to provide some of the funding required in this area from moneys collected by the Criminal Assets Bureau. It is vital that community services are made available for young people. This would be beneficial and would play an important role in reducing the drug culture in particular areas.
I agree that this issue should be viewed not alone as a criminal issue, but as a health issue. The current significant reduction in Garda numbers and no new gardaí being trained in the Garda training college, the closure of rural Garda stations and the unavailability of equipment such as Garda cars is unacceptable. This matter also needs to be tackled. We must ensure that there are no further cuts in this area, that community gardaí are replaced and that the connection between young people on the ground and gardaí is maintained and improved. This connection is vital if this issue is to be addressed.
Drug addiction is a scourge in every townland and hamlet in this country. The national drugs strategy task force established approximately ten years ago has made a significant impact on addressing the drugs problem throughout Ireland. The national drugs misuse report needs to be revisited, reviewed, tidied up administratively, followed up and implemented. In addition, all new funding should be spent on front line services rather than on administration and bureaucracy.
It is imperative that direct support is given to existing projects and services and that the drug task forces which provide critical front line services to those directly affected by drug and alcohol misuse are financially supported. This funding should be protected. If cuts are necessary, they should be made to administrative budgets. Most of these vital services, which are provided by the community sector, are well established in their areas and should not be withdrawn at this time.
Residential addiction treatment centres throughout the country are, in the main, operated by voluntary organisations, who are doing an excellent job with minimal financial support from the State. For example, Talbot Grove Treatment Centre in Castleisland, County Kerry, has been providing crucial and effective treatment programmes for more than 20 years. It is doing what the State is failing to do. A modest amount of financial support from the State would enable this centre to upgrade its services and better meet the needs of the south western corner of the country. A new Talbot Grove Treatment Centre is currently under construction to ensure continued provision of current services and to meet future needs. Capital supports need to be made available for projects like this, which save the State a fortune. Sister Consilio and her staff who, without any State funding, provide outstanding services at all their centres around the country are also saving the State millions of euro.
Prevention programmes such as Kerry Life Education, which operates from a mobile unit, visits all primary schools in Kerry on an annual basis. It provides students with an insight into the pitfalls and downside of the use of illegal drugs and misuse of alcohol. This project has never received any support from Government. It is of paramount importance that any resources provided go directly into these types of services rather than on administration.
We do not want to return to the perception of the past that the drugs problem, in particular the heroin problem, was more or less confined to Dublin, because it now affects practically every parish in the country. The services advanced by the national drugs strategy and the drugs task forces need to be sustained as essential front-line services and the national drugs misuse report needs to be implemented.
We are now paying the price for not grasping the nettle at an earlier stage. The abuse of alcohol continues to be the greatest problem by far, especially with regard to the number of people presenting at addiction treatment centres. In the Talbot Grove centre, which I mentioned, almost all the drug users have serious problems with alcohol, which is often the substance which brings them to treatment centres initially. The Government needs to revive the post of a Minister of State with responsibility for drugs because the implementation of the national drugs and alcohol programme has a lack of focus and direction.
I also wish to begin by thanking Deputy O'Sullivan for her hard work in putting together this comprehensive motion.
Unfortunately, it is a legacy of Tony Gregory which Deputy O'Sullivan did not want to keep. He brought the problem to the attention of the Dáil originally.
However, all these years later, none of us can be happy with the situation. I speak in broad support of the aims of the motion which are about acknowledging the problem, examining comprehensive ways to address it and being open-minded about it. I regret that Deputy Keating introduced a tone which was playing politics with the issue. I acknowledge what was stated by Deputy Stanton about examining jurisdictions in other parts of Europe where drugs have been decriminalised and how it has played out. I understand it is patchy in some cases but we should examine it and be open-minded. The suggestion of a committee is good because there is interest in the issue, and if people have a strong and continuing interest, we could have an opportunity to capture it and do something more positive.
We have enormous problems with addiction in our society and these problems have become substantially worse with the economic crisis. Even before the crisis hit we had 4,000 drug related deaths in the ten years prior to 2008. By 2008 we were averaging 5,000 deaths a year. These are astonishing figures and, of these, three quarters were young men. Figures from 2006 also show an estimated 17.6 opiate users per 1,000 people in the Dublin region, which is quite a shocking statistic.
We know addiction does not just stop at that and leads to other problems such as serious health complications - we often find cohorts of people homeless or with mental health issues - and issues of domestic violence. These also require State responses. We must get to the origin of the problem. Very reputable organisations such as Pieta House and Alcohol Action Ireland have highlighted the contributory role drug and alcohol abuse plays in many cases of suicide and mental health problems. This will not come as a surprise to most of us. Barnardos, another reputable organisation, speaks about the impact of parents' addiction on their children, and the same is true vice versa. We must examine smarter ways to deal with addiction and its causes.
We must examine how funding can be better targeted to achieve a better outcome. We all know money is limited, but some of the community responses have been shown to be the best type of response. We are poorly resourced in north Kildare but Abbey Regional Addiction Services, ARAS, is a community addiction service in south Kildare. I invited representatives from the group to speak to Deputies a number of months ago. They are people in recovery who volunteer to assist others in getting to where they are themselves. They mapped the services and showed us the map, and there was practically nothing in north Kildare. People on methadone programmes travel from Athy every day. We must recognise this as an impediment to dealing with the problem, and services must be much more community-based if we are to get to grips with it.
I commend Deputy O'Sullivan on tabling the motion, and the aspiration, to prioritise addiction as a health issue, not primarily as a criminal one, and ensure the necessary allocation of resources, is a noble one. I would like to speak about alcohol because for too long we have not recognised it as a drug. We think of it almost as part of our diet. At this stage it is so interwoven into who we are that it is problematic. When one visits other European countries, one sees how different the attitude is in comparison with here.
The notion that alcohol costs the State €3.7 billion in overall terms is frightening. It is amazing. Given that money is so scarce, apart from the destruction of so many lives which alcohol causes, dealing with it could also save the State a huge amount of money. A 30% reduction in alcohol harm would save the State €1 billion. A huge effort is required in this area and it would be money very well spent. It be good not only socially but also economically.
Most people have mentioned the various elements on which alcohol touches, such as 60 medical conditions, suicide, crime, absenteeism and workplace accidents. The list is endless. Like most people in the House, I like a pint of Guinness and a glass of red wine, but it is not the drinking of alcohol which causes all the harm, it is its abuse. I coach under 16s, 17s, 18s and 19s in the Wexford Youths. When I get a group of new players, my first challenge is to deal with the alcohol issue. Honestly, this is my first challenge. I must get them to think differently about how they drink. Cigarettes are another issue, but alcohol is the biggest one. I must completely change their mindset. We have won six under 18 all-Ireland titles in the past 15 years. The only reason we have done so is because we develop a discipline which involves responsible drinking. I am not saying they give it up, but they stop abusing it. If I am watching a match, after ten minutes I can tell whether a guy was drinking the night before. One can tell by how he moves and his pace over the first two yards.
One can spot them here as well.
One cannot play sport at this level and abuse alcohol, which emphasises the value of sport. It is in the State's interest to invest as much money as it possibly can in sport. Every sport is beneficial.
It is amazing how much sport can help with the problems we encounter in these areas.
I am a great believer in education, and we need to target alcohol. We must teach people more and be more specific about the harm of alcohol. Improvements have been made over the years with regard to cigarettes. I can remember in my last year in secondary school that 40 out of the 60 pupils in the two classes smoked.
The Deputy has one minute left.
I have an 18 year old son and I checked the matter with him recently. In his class of 30, only four students smoked so things have improved and there has been much work done to counteract the harm of smoking, including advertising.
Advertising is an area that we certainly need to look at due to the volume of advertising thrown at people and the content. With regard to content, we see far too much humour and joviality associated with alcohol. We must stop that as it is giving young people the wrong idea. We need strict regulation in that area and I think it will be very effective.
I must ask the Deputy to conclude to allow his colleagues to speak.
How many minutes do I have?
The Deputy has five minutes.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion and debate on addiction throughout Ireland and the increasing demands on services. I thank and commend my colleagues in the Technical Group for moving this motion as it is a priority issue in this State. In recent days, we have all seen the horrific deaths, shootings and slaughter on our streets that are all related to the contents of this motion. The Dáil needs to stand up and defend the interests of our young people but we also need to put forward constructive proposals to end this nightmare for many of our citizens. Staying silent or sitting on the fence cannot be an option. I urge the Government, the Minister and all Deputies to support us in our efforts. It is a matter of life and death and it is essential that there is a whole community response to the problems of drug and alcohol abuse. Thousands of lives are affected each day and families and homes are devastated by alcohol and drugs. This is not exaggeration. It is a public health, justice and national issue. We have reached a crisis point.
I remember well the heroin epidemic in the 1980s and the great work done on the drugs issue and the devastation it caused to local communities by the late Tony Gregory. Tony stood up to the drug dealers but, more importantly, he also stood with his local community, many times against the odds. I pay tribute to him in this debate and I urge the Minister and Government to listen and take heed of the issues raised in this motion. Again, I urge debate and reflection. Since a number of my colleagues mentioned the late Tony Gregory, it would also be appropriate to mention that there are a number of campaigns to call a bridge after a famous Irish person. I urge that the new bridge over the river Liffey be called the Tony Gregory Bridge. To those who oppose it, I say why not. Tony was of the inner city - born and bred in the inner city - and it would be a great honour and tribute to him if that bridge was called after him.
I was a bit worried to hear some of my colleagues' comments on the alcohol issue because I am one who enjoys a pint and, although I know it is not politically correct to say so, a cigarette. I believe in everything in moderation. Alcohol Action Ireland commissioned a report which asked people about alcohol-related harm in their communities. The statistics were mind-blowing. One in 11 people said that he or she or a family member had been assaulted by someone under the influence of alcohol, 45% said they had gone out of their way to avoid drunk people or places where drinkers were known to hang out, 21% said they were kept awake at night or disturbed and 18% said they felt unsafe while waiting for or using public transport. That is also a huge issue in the city of Dublin. The results also showed that 12% said they were involved in a serious argument related to alcohol and 8% said they had been threatened. Most Deputies regularly deal with the issue of antisocial behaviour in clinics. There is widespread intimidation in communities.
The Deputy has one minute left.
This intimidation would be described as low-level by the Garda Síochána but for the communities that must put up with this kind of abuse, it is an absolute nightmare.
The cost of alcohol-related crime is estimated at €1.2 billion, which is almost one third of the estimated annual cost of alcohol-related harm of €3.7 billion. As well as the direct cost to the criminal justice system in terms of policing, prisons and the courts, there are additional indirect costs such as those to businesses in lost productivity and those specific to the victim. These costs can include injury and trauma-related costs as well as costs related to property. There are some excellent and very commendable ideas in the proposals in tonight's debate and I urge the Government and Minister to take them up. I urge all Deputies to support this motion and the concrete proposals to deal with the huge drug and alcohol abuse issue as a matter of urgency.
Deputy Mattie McGrath has five minutes.
I am also delighted to be able to speak on this motion and I complement Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan from the bottom of my heart, particularly for the hard work she has done in bringing forward this motion and her ongoing work in living out the legacy she inherited from the late Tony Gregory and attacking this scourge of our nation. Much has been said and I am very annoyed that some members of Fine Gael, particularly Deputy Keating, should try to be mischievous or undermine this motion. Every politician in this and the other House knows that this is a real problem and it is not something to be joked about or to have it said that we are soft on it. We are not soft on drugs. It is a very serious motion asking us to deal with this scourge and plague in our land.
Many figures have been thrown about, but we all know the issues. Anybody living or working in a community - employers, parents and guardians - knows the issues with the drink and drug culture. I also like a drink as much as anyone and I know the problems created by it. It is costing our economy and country, in addition to the damage done to the mental and physical well-being of all those who abuse alcohol. Deputy Wallace has spoken about how when he trains soccer teams, he knows when people have been out drinking. I have seen it in teams. Unfortunately, the culture persists that it is great to go out and celebrate this, that and the other. It is wonderful to have a celebration and to use alcohol properly.
We must grasp the nettle of the drug culture. We see the slaughter on our streets where parents are being gunned down in front of their children coming home from school. This is shocking. The Troubles in Northern Ireland were not as bad as this. These gangs, some of which have come from Northern Ireland and are obviously subversive organisations, are causing mayhem but we have not tackled this. We have tackled alcohol and dangerous driving on our roads. In my constituency, we have around 40 gardaí in the Garda Traffic Corps and rightly so but only a meagre seven or eight in the whole country in the drugs division. We need a seismic change. More people are dying of alcohol or drug-related causes than are dying on the roads. Any death on the roads is one too many but we need to change emphasis completely and see the damage that is being done because we have been too slow in reacting. We have a Road Safety Authority but we now need to set up a human safety authority to deal with this problem.
I pay tribute to the Aislinn Adolescent Addiction Centre, which I was involved in setting up in Kilkenny, Sister Consilio and many other groups, including a new project of which I am a board member which we are trying to set up in Carrick-on-Suir. The need is great. Younger and younger people are being affected. One should hear the harrowing tales of people who enter the Aislinn Adolescent Addiction Centre. They are getting worse by the year and by the month and we have our heads in the sand. I sat on the other side of the House for four years. Why does every motion from this side of the House have to be countermanded by an amendment? Why can we not get together when we have a problem as serious as this, one that strikes at the very heart of our society and affects our economy to an enormous degree?
The Deputy has one minute left.
Mention has been made of the different issues relating to the many and varied people who are frightened. I wish to mention the restorative justice project in Nenagh, which is a fabulous project. Community service should be applied more. The Judiciary needs to be educated in how to deal with these issues. I am not lecturing judges but once a judge is appointed, he or she is appointed for life. How is such a person supposed to be up to date and up to speed with regard to demographic change, different cultures, the Internet, cyber-bullying, the availability of drugs, the cartels and big business setting out drink that can be bought in supermarkets and everywhere else? We need to become serious, accept motions like this one, set up an all-party working committee to deal with it and go forward in a responsible manner before it is too late.
It is almost a ritual to stand up and thank the Members who have tabled a motion. I believe quite sincerely, however, that Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and her colleagues in the Technical Group have given us a considerable amount to think about. I never thought I would hear myself saying this, but I agree with Deputy Mattie McGrath on how to deal with motions, particularly motions such as this.
One may have seen me compare both motions. We are not that far apart in our views. The Government's amendment to the motion and the original motion, while not making the same points, share the same intent. The outcome we desire is most definitely the same. While there will always be occasions on which the Government will have to table an amendment to a motion, as when there are constraints upon it, there is a need to consider seriously how we address motions when we desire the same outcome. I spoke to the proposers of the amendment to the motion before yesterday's debate and noted a deliberate attempt to make it as similar to the original motion as possible and not to dilute the latter entirely. We need to take on board what Deputy Stanton stated. If nothing emerges from this debate except one development, it should be the establishment of an all-party committee to take a serious look at addiction.
I am not certain we can take everything on board. I never wanted and do not intend to be a social housekeeper. However, I believe there are steps we can take as parliamentarians on which we need not divide. It would be good to have an all-party committee because it is a matter of attitudes more than anything else.
There has been seismic attitudinal change down through the years on certain matters and we need to start a debate on substance abuse and what we do when we have substances on board. Issues arise regarding domestic violence, children, behaviour on the public thoroughfare, anti-social behaviour and how we interact with one another in certain aspects of our lives. It is important to address these.
The drugs strategy needs to be reinforced, reinvigorated and rolled out. The alcohol strategy, on which former Minister of State Deputy Róisín Shortall was working and which is virtually complete, needs to be considered. It is only on foot of intensive scrutiny by an Oireachtas committee that we can combine our considerable resources to bring about the attitudinal change we require.
When I see the effect of substance abuse on mental health in my area, or the effect of poor mental health on substance abuse patterns, I realise there is not a one-way street but a two-way street. Sometimes people become mentally unwell because they are homeless, and sometimes one becomes homeless because one is mentally unwell. Sometimes people drink because they are mentally ill and sometimes people are mentally ill because they drink too much. It is these issues that we need to start considering seriously.
It is not all bad news. I very much take on board what Deputy Wallace stated about young men's involvement in sport and the fact that they regard their bodies as temples and will not do anything to jeopardise their place on the team. However, we need to change our national attitude. We can do so and have done so in other areas.
As Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan will know well, we are combating the stigma associated with mental illness and talking about it far more openly and positively. It is possible to change attitudes and we can do so if there is a combined effort. We do not always need adversarial debate across the floor of the House on certain issues. While I must commend the Government's amendment to the motion to the House, I believe the Members present understand the spirit in which it was tabled.
An increasing number of people are presenting to the drugs services with a variety of problems associated with addiction. These include mental illness, homelessness and literacy problems. Addiction is just the tip of the iceberg. People's issues are becoming ever more complex and heroin is becoming increasingly prominent. This, in turn, increases the complexity of the service user's problems. We must not respond to this problem with but one solution. Each person's issues are different and one service will not fit all. Cuts to the rolling out of education and awareness campaigns at local level are certainly not the answer, nor is cutting the funding of front-line services. Harm reduction, education and needle exchange are all aspects of the community services that are having their funding hacked away, bit by bit.
The national drugs strategy, developed through the voluntary, community and statutory agencies and drafted by the regional task forces, is wholly inadequate in dealing with the constant and evolving nature of drug addiction. The current strategy spans the period 2009 to 2016, as the Minister of State knows, yet drug workers on the ground, with whom I am familiar in my constituency, will tell one the emergence of new substances, prescription medication misuse and the purchasing of drugs on the Internet make the nature of the drug availability problem change monthly, never mind yearly. Workers on the ground have to respond to a strategy that is completely out of date and out of touch.
I recommend to the Government that it review the drugs strategy at least every two years, and certainly not in six, as envisaged, if we are to have any hope of keeping up with the changing problem of addiction. The national strategy promotes a partnership approach between the community, voluntary and statutory services. However, from what I hear, community service has evolved very much into a top-down model. The partnership approach is eroding and community services are receiving directions increasingly from their funders on how to approach their work, without any consultation with the service users.
The Government should put in place a service users' forum, which has been called for by many community groups. The forum would listen to service users and inform policy on their needs. We cannot continue with our current approach of telling users what they require. Clearly, this method failed bitterly down through the years.
The most notable increase pertains to heroin addiction. We must tackle the issue of people spending many years on methadone. Theoretically, a heroin user is put on methadone and then receives counselling and support as the dosage is reduced over a period. Many of us are aware of numerous cases in which a user has been on the same dose year after year simply because other services are not in place for him. This is ridiculous and does nothing to solve the heroin abuse problem.
Can the Minister of State shed any light on the reluctance of general practitioners, including some in my constituency, to engage in a partnership approach with the community drugs services in respect of prescribing methadone and offering community-based detoxification? Surely this is a denial of basic human rights. From having spoken to people in my constituency this morning, I noted there are 40 to 50 people on the waiting list for methadone treatment in Waterford. Irrespective of what the official figures imply, we know there are doctors from Dublin travelling to Waterford to prescribe methadone although a joined-up approach with local general practitioners would reduce the waiting list considerably.
Given the intense intimidation of drug users' families, the Government must put in place a national response. I constantly encounter cases of dealers knocking on the doors of drug users' families, burning their homes and threatening them. Many families are told to pay or face further intimidation. Paying is easier in the long run, as the families have no supports. The State needs to get its act together and put a strategy in place for them. For example, it should help overcome the difficulties involved in relocating.
According to the UN, illegal drugs comprise 8% of the world's trade. There are more than 250 million drug users. Drugs will always be with us. We have tried prohibition, but that approach has not worked. The demand for services has never been greater, crime is increasing, customs hauls are on the rise and the intimidation of drug users' families is reaching epidemic proportions. We need to re-evaluate our response to addiction and examine the problem rationally on a moral value basis instead of deciding what is right and wrong. It is time for a logical debate on the reclassification, decriminalisation and regulation of certain illegal substances. We must consider some European models, for example, those found in Portugal and the Netherlands. Portugal decriminalised drug use for personal consumption in 2001, after which drug use among 13-18 year olds declined significantly.
I am not advocating that we legalise drugs, but we need a non-sensational, pragmatic and reasonable debate on the issue. It is not mentally or physically possible for the majority of heroin users to work. Many are impervious to treatment because they have suffered neurological damage. Jailing them and throwing away the key will not work. The figure of 10,000 is increasing.
Prevention and law enforcement are not working and the public perception is that the drug barons are winning. People do not want to discuss the prescription of heroin or the treatment of drug addiction as a chronic health issue. There are many examples of the methadone treatment programme not working.
I would like to continue speaking, but I do not want to take up Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's time. I apologise to her for taking a minute of her time.
Legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco are undoubtedly causing people significant damage. Equally, illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, skunk, crystal meth and so on are causing damage. We have not spent much time discussing other addictions, for example, gambling, food, sex and the Internet, that are harmful to those affected by them.
I will cite three of today's newspaper stories - a woman is in jail for stealing from her employer to fund a gambling addiction that has already cost her her marriage; according to a Limerick newspaper, more women than ever are using heroin; and €100,000 is necessary to keep the country's only mother and child detox centre open.
The level of Internet gambling is increasing. Just as there is a call for a social responsibility levy on the drinks industry, there should be a levy on the racing industry. It is proposed that betting taxes be reinvested in the industry, but surely some of that money should go towards treatment and services for those with gambling addictions. According to counselling services, more people are presenting with gambling addictions plus addictions to other substances.
This motion is wide-ranging and covers mental, physical and emotional health, suicide, homelessness, the range of addictions, polydrug use, fatalities, premature mortality, prisons, the links with lower socioe-conomic groups, crime, rape, sexual violence, the Garda, the Naval Service, the Customs and Excise, the range of treatment and rehabilitation services, research and prevention. Just as there was a Minister of State with responsibility for this area in the previous Government, we should consider whether there should be another in this Government. I support Deputy Stanton's comments.
We know the horrific statistics relating to the harm caused by the misuse and abuse of alcohol. The majority of people can use alcohol sensibly, but there is no doubt that there has been a change in Irish drinking patterns. People used to have occasional nights out, but they are now bombarded by special offers and load up on cheap alcohol to drink at home. Sales of cheap alcohol are fuelling anti-social behaviour, domestic and street violence and the neglect of children. Young people have a different mindset, in that they deliberately go out to get drunk.
Since alcohol has had a continuous presence in our history and is embedded in our culture, there is a tendency to see its misuse and abuse rather than alcohol itself as the problem. Perhaps we do see it and do not want to take the necessary steps to tackle the problem.
Under the national substance misuse strategy, the three aspects that need tackling are advertising - I must pay tribute to the fantastic advertisements that are devised for alcohol - and marketing, increased availability and low pricing. The price of food will increase, but the price of alcohol will decrease. All three aspects fuel greater consumption. The report recommends increasing the price of alcohol, creating a legislative basis for minimum pricing and applying a social responsibility levy. Other recommendations relate to advertising, early intervention guidelines, brief intervention protocols, etc.
The voluntary member of the steering committee stated: "This report is not about stopping drinking, or the nanny state. This is about reducing the amount of alcohol we consume, which is outrageously high." The Minister of State, Deputy White, outlined the statistics last night and stated that we needed to rethink our relationship with alcohol. We must stop accepting drunkenness as part of the Irish psyche.
Let us open the debate on decriminalisation. That is all. It would be a call to start discussing decriminalisation, to examine the research and to hear from the projects, task forces and users. The Union for Improved Services Communication and Education, UISCE, in inner city Dublin, is the service users forum.
I will refer to an article written by Fr. Peter McVerry last year for the magazine of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice. He wrote: "a debate on drug policy should start with the following three questions, which I would address to both politicians and the wider public:
1. Do you believe that Ireland will ever again become free of illegal drugs? If your answer is 'yes', where is the evidence for your optimism? Our experience in Ireland, over the past thirty years, suggests that drug availability is likely to continue to be a major problem, despite the successes of the Gardaí.... Almost every country in the world – including those that execute drug dealers! – has a drug problem.
2. If illegal drugs are here to stay, who should control the supply of drugs? At present, the supply of illegal drugs is obviously controlled by criminal gangs ...
3. If drugs are here to stay, and if we do not want the criminal drug gangs to control their supply then who should do so?
It is his opinion that the State should take control of the supply, although he is not in favour of legalising drugs. Who wants to see heroin as readily available as alcohol?
The Global Commission on Drug Policy set out similar recommendations, namely, end the criminalisation, marginalisation and stigmatisation. Three of the countries involved in the commission, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, have significant drug problems. Despite the billions of American dollars invested in tackling those problems, matters are the same.
We must open the debate. Prevention is central. I acknowledge the work of the Young People's Facilities and Services Fund. I chaired the north inner city group since its inception. It has been good.
The Minister of State, Deputy White, referred to the strengthening families programme, which is excellent and practical, but the funding to implement it in some areas is lacking.
Most drug users and alcoholics will want to quit at some point. The difficulty lies in accessing treatment when they are ready, as opposed to months down the line. The Minister of State mentioned the number of detox and residential rehab beds, of which there are not enough. Keltoi is an excellent facility in the Phoenix Park, but not all of its beds are being used. There have been improvements in Dublin, but the rest of the country is not quite keeping up.
We do not acknowledge the value of the 12-step programmes enough. They do amazing work for addicts and their loved ones.
Some homeless people who are in recovery are being forced to share transitional housing with people who are still in addiction. This is appalling and should not occur.
Deputy Clare Daly addressed the issue of prisons. It is appalling that someone who enters prison drug free will leave with an addiction. Instead of unco-ordinated releases, people should leave prison in conjunction with community-based programmes.
The problems with alcohol and drugs are deep-rooted, serious and complex and there is no easy or quick-fix solution to them, as the motion reveals. Since no Government has delivered to date, it is up to the current Government. The first step is to accept and implement the recommendations of the national misuse steering group and to support the multi-agency, statutory, voluntary and community task forces. I hope that the Government will not fail.
Approximately one year ago, I launched a leaflet in a multicultural school and provided information on drugs in various languages. I told the kids that they would believe I had lost the plot had I asked them to raise their hands if they wanted to become addicts. However, that is the reality.
Many of those young people will turn to alcohol and drugs. We must get them at the point before it becomes a problem we must tackle. They all set out thinking they will not be caught and will remain in control, but that does not happen.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 72; Níl, 39.
- Bannon, James.
- Barry, Tom.
- Breen, Pat.
- Broughan, Thomas P.
- Butler, Ray.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Catherine.
- Byrne, Eric.
- Carey, Joe.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Conaghan, Michael.
- Conlan, Seán.
- Connaughton, Paul J.
- Conway, Ciara.
- Coonan, Noel.
- Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
- Creed, Michael.
- Daly, Jim.
- Deasy, John.
- Deering, Pat.
- Dowds, Robert.
- Doyle, Andrew.
- English, Damien.
- Farrell, Alan.
- Feighan, Frank.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Fitzpatrick, Peter.
- Griffin, Brendan.
- Harrington, Noel.
- Harris, Simon.
- Healy-Rae, Michael.
- Heydon, Martin.
- Humphreys, Heather.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Keating, Derek.
- Kehoe, Paul.
- Kelly, Alan.
- Kenny, Seán.
- Lawlor, Anthony.
- Lynch, Ciarán.
- Lynch, Kathleen.
- McCarthy, Michael.
- McEntee, Shane.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- McHugh, Joe.
- McLoughlin, Tony.
- Maloney, Eamonn.
- Mathews, Peter.
- Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Murphy, Dara.
- Nash, Gerald.
- Neville, Dan.
- Nolan, Derek.
- Noonan, Michael.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Donovan, Patrick.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Sullivan, Jan.
- Perry, John.
- Phelan, Ann.
- Ring, Michael.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Spring, Arthur.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Stanton, David.
- Timmins, Billy.
- Tuffy, Joanna.
- Wall, Jack.
- Walsh, Brian.
- White, Alex.
- Boyd Barrett, Richard.
- Calleary, Dara.
- Collins, Joan.
- Collins, Niall.
- Colreavy, Michael.
- Cowen, Barry.
- Crowe, Seán.
- Daly, Clare.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Ellis, Dessie.
- Ferris, Martin.
- Fleming, Tom.
- Halligan, John.
- Healy, Seamus.
- Higgins, Joe.
- Kelleher, Billy.
- Kirk, Seamus.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
- McConalogue, Charlie.
- McDonald, Mary Lou.
- McGrath, Finian.
- McGrath, Mattie.
- McGrath, Michael.
- McGuinness, John.
- McLellan, Sandra.
- Murphy, Catherine.
- Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
- Ó Cuív, Éamon.
- Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- O'Brien, Jonathan.
- O'Sullivan, Maureen.
- Pringle, Thomas.
- Ross, Shane.
- Smith, Brendan.
- Stanley, Brian.
- Tóibín, Peadar.
- Troy, Robert.
- Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Catherine Murphy and Maureen O'Sullivan.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.
The Dáil adjourned at 9.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 4 October 2012.