Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to introduce the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2016 to the House. Everyone is aware of the devastation that drugs cause to individuals and communities across the State. Recently we have become all too aware of the on-street dealing in prescription medication, some of which is controlled under the misuse of drugs legislation and some of which is not. This Bill is intended to deal with this issue and forms part of an overall package of initial measures being introduced by the Government as a matter of priority to further strengthen the hands of our law enforcement authorities in tackling those involved in gangland crime, the devastating effects of which we have seen in the recent violence in our capital city.

Drug dealers on the street often carry relatively small quantities of drugs on their person which makes it difficult for the authorities to proceed with charges of sale or supply. Drug dealers include drug users and addicts. The primary purpose of this Bill is to aid the law enforcement functions of An Garda Síochána in tackling crime associated with the illegal sale of certain substances. This Bill is not about targeting addicts. It is about disrupting gangs who profit from the on-street sale of dangerous substances and giving An Garda Síochána the power it needs to do so. While the illicit trade in these substances is not confined to any area, it is clear that this trade has been noticeably prominent in the Dublin north inner city area. This is a particular problem which has been highlighted by community groups and representatives from the local area and by political colleagues as one of the priority issues to be addressed as part of the Government’s overall targeted response to issues affecting the north inner city area.

Following the appalling violence witnessed over the past few months, the Government examined measures which could help to tackle organised crime in the north inner city and elsewhere. One such measure, proposed by my colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is to expedite the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill which had originally been scheduled to be introduced in the autumn of 2016. The Minister decided to bring forward a shortened version of the Bill to aid law enforcement in tackling this serious issue.

This Bill aims to protect public health by bringing under the scope of the misuse of drugs legislation certain substances which are open to misuse and known to be traded on the illicit market. The Bill provides that certain prescription medicines currently being sold illegally on our streets and which are not already controlled drugs, will come under the scope of the Misuse of Drugs Act. These include so-called Z-drugs, such as zopiclone and zaleplon. Controlling the substances in the Bill is part one of a two-step process. Ministerial regulations are required subsequently to determine the level of control which is to apply to each substance and who may legally possess the substances. This would include practitioners and patients. Work is under way on drafting the regulations in my Department. The control of substances under the Bill will only be commenced when the associated regulations are ready. This should happen relatively quickly.

As Deputies are aware, this Bill completed its passage through the Seanad last week. I thank all the Senators who contributed to the debate and who made important contributions on many issues relating to drugs, drugs use, drug addiction, drug services and treatment. There were also contributions on the subject of decriminalising the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use. I want to reiterate the point I made in the Seanad last week. I do not want to criminalise anybody who takes drugs because of addiction. Some of these addicts fund their addiction through the sale of drugs to others. It is wrong for a person to unlawfully supply a dangerous substance to someone else - it is simply wrong - even if that person’s motivation is to fund their own addiction. That person is interfering with somebody’s life by supplying them with a dangerous or harmful substance, possibly leading to death.

In the Seanad, there was general agreement that consideration should be given to alternatives to criminal sanctions for drug addicts. There was also general agreement that drug dealing should be prevented.

Drug dealers on the street often carry relatively small quantities of drugs on their person, which makes it difficult to proceed with sale or supply charges under the medicines regulations. The gardaí have told us that enabling the offence of possession under the Misuse of Drugs Act will assist them in tackling this dangerous and illegal trade.

How do we help those addicted to drugs? In the programme for a partnership Government we have committed to supporting a health-led rather than criminal justice approach to drug use, including legislating for supervised injecting facilities. The Government intends to bring forward a second Bill later this year, which will legislate for supervised injecting facilities for chronic drug users. Drafting of this Bill is at an advanced stage and, subject to approval by Government, it will be published in the coming months. The programme for a partnership Government also includes a commitment to completing work and commencing implementation of a new national drugs strategy.

A high level review of the current drugs policy has been undertaken by a panel of international experts, which will highlight the key issues that need to be addressed under the new strategy. The strategy’s steering committee will consider the approach to drug policy in other countries and a review of international evidence on interventions to tackle the drug problem. Focus groups have been established to advise the steering committee on the relevance of the strategy in tackling the current nature and extent of problem drug use in Ireland, including emerging trends and cross-cutting issues. This aspect of the process will identify any actions that need to be undertaken under the new strategy to meet challenges ahead.

As Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy, I will shortly announce details of a consultation process on the new strategy, which I intend to be as broad, comprehensive and inclusive as possible. I urge the Deputies and others to take the opportunity to contribute to this discussion. Part of that discussion includes alternative approaches to dealing with simple possession offences. Of course, one such alternative approach is decriminalisation of possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use. Decriminalisation is a complex social, legal and practical issue which has to be worked out properly before we can say that people should not be criminalised for carrying drugs on their person. The implementation of such a change in policy would need extremely careful consideration. Such consideration is being given through the national drugs strategy but it must also include the views of people providing and receiving services on the ground, experts and public representatives. It would of course need to be examined in great depth in conjunction with the Department of Justice and Equality. The matter is being looked at and I would not like Deputies to think otherwise. In the meantime, however, I ask for the co-operation of Deputies in enacting this legislation as just a piece of the jigsaw the Government is putting in place to assist An Garda Síochána in protecting local communities.

Most of the substances listed in the schedule to this Bill are already controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. Some Deputies will recall all substances controlled by Government orders made under section 2(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 had to be recontrolled by emergency legislation last year on foot of the decision of the Court of Appeal striking down that section as unconstitutional. Therefore, the Schedule to this Bill includes substances already controlled, to which have been added several new substances. These include certain medicines, as well as substances which have no therapeutic value. These products have been identified as harmful and have already been the subject of much public and political concern. A good example of this is the synthetic drug called "clockwork orange". Concerns about the availability and use of clockwork orange", particularly its use in the Cavan-Monaghan region, have been highlighted recently. Calls for the controlling of this substance under our Misuse of Drugs Acts have been made in widespread media reports concerning this product. This product was also the subject of much attention and concerns expressed at a special joint sitting of the Oireachtas Joint Committees on Health and on Justice and Equality held last July where the harms associated with the use of this substance and similar products were highlighted.

Before I explain in detail the provisions of the Bill, it is helpful to give a brief explanation of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 which is to be amended by this Bill. This legislation has two primary purposes. First, it aims to protect the public by controlling access to substances which have a medical and therapeutic value but which are harmful if misused, such as benzodiazepines and heroin. The legislation facilitates the safe use of these controlled drugs by means of ministerial regulations and orders but provides that it is an offence to possess or sell these unless authorised to do so under the regulations. Second, the legislation aims to protect the public by establishing a system of tight control over dangerous and harmful substances with no therapeutic or other legitimate use. Well-known examples of these would be ecstasy or headshop drugs. These drugs are often manufactured by persons who try to stay ahead of the law by making relatively minor changes to the structure and chemical formula of a known drug. Accordingly, it is important we regularly update our drugs legislation and, where appropriate, include generic definitions which potentially cover a large number of substances, some of which have not yet appeared on the streets.

This Bill provides for a series of amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. These include an amendment to section 1, the definition section, which provides that references in this Bill to the “Principal Act” mean the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. This is a standard provision.

Section 2 of this Bill involves an amendment of section 1 of the principal Act, which is the interpretation section of the principal Act. It was amended by the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 with the insertion of a definition for “registered nurse” which was based on the Nurses Act 1985, and an amended definition of “practitioner”, consequent on the insertion of the definition of “registered nurse”. This was to provide that the Minister could make regulations allowing nurses to prescribe controlled drugs. In 2011, the Nurses Act 1985 was repealed by the Nurses and Midwives Act. The 2011 Act established a new definition of “registered nurse” and “registered midwife”. This Bill proposes to amend the definition applied to nurses and midwives so that it is updated to reflect the 2011 Act, and the definition of “practitioner” consequent on that.

Section 3 of this Bill amends section 5 of the principal Act which allows the Minister to make regulations to prevent the misuse of controlled drugs. Under this section, the Minister makes regulations setting out who may prescribe and administer controlled drugs. This section was amended by the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 with the insertion of provisions allowing the Minister to regulate the issue of prescriptions, and supply of controlled drugs on prescription, but providing that the Minister will not do so unless satisfied that it is reasonably safe to allow such prescribing and supply.

This Bill proposes to amend the provisions which were inserted into the 1977 Act by the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 by updated references to “registered nurse” and “registered midwife” consequent on the Nurses and Midwives Act 2011. Section 4 is an amendment of section 13 of the principal Act. The purpose of this amendment is to facilitate the commencement of a provision of the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 transferring responsibility for the issue of licences under the Act from the Minister for Health to the Irish Medicines Board, now the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA. The HPRA already carries out all of the administrative functions relating to licensing, such as assessing and inspecting applicants but has to submit the completed licences to the Department for signing. This is an unnecessary administrative burden.

Section 5 is an amendment of section 21 of the principal Act. The purpose of this amendment is to facilitate the commencement of a provision of the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 transferring responsibility for the issue of licences under the Act from the Minister for Health to the Irish Medicines Board now the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA.

The Schedule to the principal Act lists the substances which are to be controlled under the legislation. The 1977 Act had a Schedule which was amended by the addition of paragraphs 1A and 1B under emergency legislation in 2015. These paragraphs listed the substances which had been declared controlled under the Act by means of Government order made under section 2(2) of the principal Act. The Court of Appeal found this section unconstitutional and Government orders made under it automatically became invalid. The Court of Appeal decision was struck down by the Supreme Court on 22 June. The Supreme Court judgment is most welcome, as it means that the future control of substances under this Act can once again be made by means of Government order.

A number of ministerial regulations were confirmed under the 2015 emergency legislation. This gives them the status of an Act of the Oireachtas and means that they can only be amended or repealed by primary legislation. Section 7 provides for the revocation of these statutory instruments, coupled with the next section of the Bill which provides that the Act will come into operation on foot of commencement orders rather than on enactment. The Minister will be able to revoke and introduce new regulations simultaneously and at a time of his or her choosing. There will, therefore, be no time gap between the repeal of the regulation and the making of its replacement. Section 8 of the Bill sets out the Short Title, collective construction and commencement of the Act. It provides for the making of orders by the Minister with regard to setting the day or days on which different provisions of the Act will come into operation. This will allow the Minister to commence the amendment to the Schedule to the Act on the same day as he or she repeals regulations and makes new regulations. This is a standard provision.

As I said in the Seanad, I wish to reiterate my commitment as a citizen, public representative and Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy and that of the Government to addressing in a balanced and effective way the challenges posed by drug misuse to individuals and their families, neighbours, friends and, above all, communities. I hope that all in this House will fully back this Bill and help to ensure its smooth and speedy passage through the Oireachtas before the summer break.

I am pleased to be able to speak on this Bill on behalf of Fianna Fáil, with Deputy James Browne, spokesperson on mental health, and in my role as party spokesperson on drugs, and on tackling the country's crippling drug problem. It is an area in need of major reform in terms of our approach. Every day we hear stories of individuals, families and communities around the country that have been devastated by drugs. I welcome the renewed focus on this area, and also the development of the new national drug strategy which will shape our policies in trying to tackle this issue in the coming years.

I am pleased to be able to support the Bill, which addresses a problem that is currently causing major difficulties across the country. It is an issue the Fianna Fáil Party has raised for some time. In May, the Fianna Fáil Party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, highlighted how the main issue on the streets concerned tablets, specifically so-called Z-drugs. I also welcome the decision of the Government to appoint a dedicated Minister of State with responsibility for drugs, as proposed by Fianna Fáil, and I look forward to working with the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne. I wish her well in her new role.

Today's discussion highlights very clearly how we as legislators need to stay on top of a constantly evolving environment where clever and ruthless drug dealers use every loophole, grey area and opportunity they can to intimidate and prey on vulnerable people and make profits from the victims of drugs. It is regrettable that it has taken the recent spate of gang-related deaths to focus minds on this issue.

I am glad the Bill is being fast-tracked. As legislators, we must be proactive and aggressive in tackling major international criminal empires. People in all communities countrywide know of the devastation caused by heroin and narcotics on a daily basis. Addiction to the specific substances in the Bill is second only to alcohol abuse in Ireland. This shows the scale and prevalence of these drugs.

The drugs being discussed today, which are, of course, legally available through prescription, are causing just as much harm in the hands of drug dealers. Some drugs have been given colourful monikers such as clockwork orange, zimmos, blues and yellows, but people should not be fooled. There is nothing harmless about the damage these drugs are causing, their devastating health effects, the cost to our health services, the relationships that have been destroyed and the lives that have been ruined. We are banning these drugs because they are harmful and because the bodies trying to tackle the problem, such as community groups working in the inner city and the Garda, have sought this action to enable us to properly tackle criminal gangs.

We should also be mindful of the doctors and nurses in our emergency departments who are on the front line dealing with the very real impact of what happens when drugs like these are taken. For example, clockwork orange has been linked with several deaths. Former users of the drug have also been to the fore in highlighting the dangers of these types of drugs. One former user said:

When you take it you don't want to move, you don't want to talk. It is hard enough keeping your eyes concentrating on what's going on around you. Then when you don't have it, it is just a total different person. The whole paranoia sets in. Anxiety. It makes you feel very sick.

This move is not an attack on problem drug takers and those with addiction problems. There should be no confusion or obfuscation by Deputies in the House on this point. This is about empowering agencies to be able to target the gangs that are controlling the supply and sale of these drugs at every level. Like much of our drug problem, this is happening at every level. We might like to trick ourselves into believing that this is a problem in certain areas. The media often label only socially and economically deprived areas as having drug issues. The problem is profound in those areas.

Indeed, just this week a report from the Clondalkin drugs task force, led by Dr. Aileen O'Gorman, found that drug-related harm consistently clusters in communities marked by poverty and social inequality. The research found that the situation was allowed to develop by the policies of successive Governments and year-on-year funding cuts. These communities simply cannot survive if this continues.

It is far too simple a narrative to think drug problems are simply confined to these communities. Such thinking will only lead to an escalation of the drug problem if it is allowed to fester. Drug dealers and gangs that are supplying heroin and feeding off addiction in the city centre are the very same drug dealers who are dealing to recreational, intermittent users who work on a daily basis but decide to consume their drugs of choice on a Friday or Saturday night. The substances may be different but the result is the same.

The victims in our city centres and in more deprived areas may be a more obvious symbol to point to the drugs scourge, but the task for all of us should be to make all people realise that every joint that is rolled, line of cocaine that is snorted and pill swallowed in a nightclub puts money directly into the pockets of criminals, the very same criminals who are now committing murders on a near-weekly basis. Whether one is rolling a joint or a €20 note, one is contributing to the carnage and terror being meted out. Trying to get this point across and make this connection is important and has to be highlighted. Equally important, however, is the need to develop proper treatment, rehabilitation, therapeutic and aftercare services. No progress can be made in this area until these services are in place.

As work gets under way on the new national drug strategy, more emphasis needs to be placed on prevention. This should start with our younger people. Greater emphasis needs to be placed on the teaching of SPHE in schools and informing children about the dangers of drugs. Former users, as well as health care professionals and law enforcement agencies, have a lot to offer in this regard and can play an important role in educating and preventing young people from going down the road of drugs. Many resources should be committed to local drugs task forces which are dealing with issues on the front line every day.

A widespread national public awareness campaign should be a key component of the next drugs strategy.

The provision of needle exchanges and methadone clinics serve a purpose but we must look at ways to improve such approaches to the drug-taking problem. One option is to legislate for the use of Suboxone, a methadone alternative which helps to reduce the symptoms of opioid dependency. Suboxone is less addictive and harder to abuse, making it safer for those with drug problems. Although it is expensive, a pilot programme of 80 users has delivered promising results and it has been recommended by the HSE steering group. It has been proven to be particularly successful in treating people who become addicted to over-the-counter drugs who, due to the stigma associated with methadone clinics, often go untreated. All the while their addiction grows and consumes them, their work, relationships, their family and their whole life.

A study by the British Medical Journal found buphenorphine, the main component in Suboxone, is six times safer than methadone with regard to overdose. I would welcome clarity and an update from the Minister of State on whether she intends to legislate for Suboxone and its introduction in primary care centres to improve the lives of many people who face drug addiction. The Department of Health has also given its approval for Suboxone and I believe the House should work collectively to ensure the drug is dispensed. Equally, we should push for more GPs to embrace such replacement mechanisms, moving away from methadone clinics and delivering treatments at community level.

The next drugs strategy should also ensure greater levels of research are undertaken to ensure we compile a database of information and statistics to get a full, encompassing picture of the current situation. It is only with such information that we can properly and broadly tackle the problem. Ultimately, we should implement a national substance misuse strategy to respond to the shifts in patterns of drug use and to include the growing crisis with alcohol abuse. That would ensure equity of service provision in both urban and rural communities, assessment of need at community level, implementation of evidence-based interventions and measurement of outcomes.

It is important also to consider the work and report undertaken in the previous Dáil term by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality which was under the Chairmanship of the newly appointed Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton. Considerable research and work went into producing a report which examined the Portuguese model of tackling drugs. I look forward to examining the report further and other issues related to tackling the drugs problems during the term of this Dáil on the new Committee on Justice and Equality and in my role as the party's spokesperson on drugs. It is clear the collective will exists to do something. We now need to show a blend of compassion and understanding, determination and ruthlessness to tackle the significant drugs problem in this country effectively.

I welcome the Bill, the aim of which is to make illegal the illicit trade in certain drugs that have become part of the illegal drug trade in recent years, which is fuelling much of the gangland violence and is leading to social breakdown in communities. Drug abuse continues to be a scourge of individuals, families and communities, but the underlying issues have been ongoing for decades. When the television focuses on the violence, which tends to come in waves, attention is focused on it, but when the violence leaves television screens, very often the communities that are affected are forgotten about once again.

The role of the Minister of State and the Department of Health should not stop with the enactment of the legislation. The Bill is important in terms of fighting gangland crime, but that is not a function of the Department of Health which has an important role to play in communities above and beyond drug legislation. Children, young adults and teenagers are the most vulnerable in terms of drug use and advantage is being taken of them. Vulnerable families are most at risk. We have heard of children as young as 13 years of age earning up to €300 to act as couriers, which is a fortune to any 13 year old, but to one who feels he or she and his or her family have been abandoned by society, who consider the system as having failed them and who see deprivation all around them, €300 is like winning the lotto. When drugs enter a community, they do so as hope leaves. Drugs splinter communities. The Department of Health has a critical role to play in addressing the cultural, social and environmental issues surrounding drug use and, in particular, in addressing deprivation in communities.

I accept the Department does not run the prisons, the justice system or the Garda, but it has a significant and critical role in terms of intervention in order that young people do not end up in those systems. Prisons are full of people with mental health problems, those who cannot read or write and those from towns and inner city communities who have been forgotten. If one took out those categories of people from prison, there would not be too many left. That is not to excuse criminal behaviour, but all too often it is the drug addict earning €200 for a drug run, carrying €20,000 or €30,000 worth of drugs, who ends up before the courts rather than the drug lords. Too often the drug barons remain free.

The Department has the opportunity to provide public health information on drug use, to provide mental health and public health intervention teams and to provide family supports. Very often in communities affected by drugs the resources are limited and people do not have the knowledge or wherewithal even to begin to look for what they need. It is of the utmost importance to provide a public knowledge information system in order that people will be made aware of the resources that are available to help them and for the resources to be targeted in that regard.

We know from the facts and figures available that, during the period of austerity, it was the poor and the young who suffered disproportionately in terms of cuts and emigration. It is also those demographics that are the most vulnerable to mental health issues – depression, suicide and self harm. The undeniable result is that communities feel abandoned, and that suits drug gangs who need a hopeless and vulnerable community to take advantage of to fuel their business. Inner city communities should not be defined by a subset of drug dealers. Communities are crying out for help and the Department of Health has a critical role to play in providing the help. Often, they are strong communities but they feel disempowered. The Department can play an important role in re-empowering communities by providing them with the supports they need in terms of early intervention, mental health supports and public health supports in order that they no longer feel abandoned and have the wherewithal to stand up to the gangs.

However, the communities cannot do it on their own. They need support and not just for today or tomorrow. They need multi-annual support. When communities were given support, they could take on the gangs, rebuild themselves and rekindle connectivity, given that the gangs thrive on breaking down such connectivity. I urge the Minister of State, in conjunction with her fellow Ministers, to intervene further and to introduce the necessary task force and provide the help and support to tackle the problem, not just now or when the violence is gone from our television screens. We need clear commitments and stepping stones for the next five to ten years. Immediate interventions are required but so too are intermediate and long-term interventions to support communities.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this topic. Fianna Fáil will be supporting this Bill which has been expected for some time. As the Minister of State is aware, problem drug use continues to be one of the most significant challenges facing the city of Dublin and the entire country. We know how drugs and substances undermine the human potential of the drug user, devastating the lives of families and causing huge problems for local communities. Equally, we know that many habits and addictions do not emerge from nowhere. They do not exist in isolation, nor are they usually aberrations, disconnected from the context of the life of any one human being. Rather, they tend to be symptomatic of a person's environment and, to borrow a phrase of which the Taoiseach seems to be so fond, a function and symptom of a person's lived experience.

In supporting this legislation, I recognise the need to address the illegality of the sale and misuse of the listed drugs. It follows the line of my party’s manifesto position which seeks to develop and implement an effective national substance misuse strategy inclusive of all drugs, including alcohol and cannabis. It is the view in Fianna Fáil - my colleagues Deputy James Browne and the party's spokesperson, Deputy Jack Chambers, have articulated it - that further delay on this legislation is only adding to a growing crisis in the country and especially, though not exclusively, in inner city areas.

From talking to communities under pressure, with which I am in touch, as are my colleagues, a very strong signal was being sent by them to their public representatives that they were under siege from these so-called Z-drugs. Used by heroin addicts, the medication is highly addictive, deeply damaging and, in some cases, has fatal consequences.

I am aware of the warnings issued in my constituency of Dublin South-West by the Tallaght drugs and alcohol task force concerning the need for users to stay clear of some "homemade drugs" which had left people hospitalised. This was as far back as 2014. However, in the intervening years the culture of drug use has changed. There is a huge amount of experimentation with new drugs among young people, many of whom class their drug use as recreational. Polydrug use is also a major concern, with people using a diverse range of substances, including alcohol. We often forget alcohol when it comes to discussing the misuse of drugs. For some people, alcohol and drinking have become a chaotic feature of their lives.

We have been calling for this legislation to be updated for some time, and a change of regulations is required. The signing of regulations is required to criminalise that activity and to give the Garda the power it requires to arrest those who are distributing tablets across the city. Those powers are not there and, incredibly, the Garda is not in a position to move effectively on this phenomenon, which is a huge source of revenue to the drug lords and is damaging young people in these communities.

I note the Minister referred in his speech to the legislation as an important element of the Government’s arsenal in the fight against drug-dealing and trafficking, and consequent gangland crime. I want to be consistent in my response to this. I welcome the intention of the Bill but I have to object to the term "gangland". I wish the Government and some in the media would resist the temptation to continually use this term. Deliberately or not, it is geographically defining and does a huge injustice to the amazing communities striving to live full lives in many parts of this city and country.

I welcome that the Minister is presenting the Bill early and that the Government decided to expedite the drafting and publication of parts of the Misuse of Drugs Bill, originally scheduled for the autumn. I support the aid it should provide for the law-enforcement functions of An Garda Síochána in tackling crime associated with the illegal sale of certain substances.

There is a problem, as I referred to earlier, with the sale on the street of prescription medicines. As the Minister pointed out, this is especially true of some medicines not controlled under the misuse of drugs legislation. It is clear that the legislation in this area needs to be urgently strengthened, in particular to tackle the street trading in some of these prescription medicines. The Minister has noted that, "the most prevalent products being sold on the street, for example, the zopiclone products used to treat insomnia, remain solely under the medicinal products regulations rather than the Misuse of Drugs Acts. It is possible for persons selling prescription medicines to be charged under the medicines legislation". As the Minister pointed out, "This legislation is framed as a regulatory measure to govern the legitimate trade in these types of product, rather than as a criminal code". The Minister also suggested that, "It is clear there are those who are exploiting this for their own criminal gains". In view of this I welcome the move by the Government to address this shortcoming in the law in this regard.

The Minister is right to highlight the misuse of psychoactive drugs. Of those who use and misuse drugs, psychoactive drugs are becoming more and more the drugs of choice of teenagers and young adults in Ireland and across Europe. Their use is endemic across Ireland, not in so-called gangland areas. In fact, the notion that this will somehow limit the crime in Dublin’s north inner city is to completely miss the point relating to the scale of drug use in Ireland. All this view does is reinforce the stereotype that drug use takes place in poor, disadvantaged areas of poverty and deprivation. The use of psychoactive drugs is widespread. While I support the measures in the Bill, I am disappointed at the linking in the Bill with the locations the Minister highlighted earlier.

The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has visited the north inner city of Dublin. I saw him there one of the days I was there myself, so he knows that, geographically, it is not a huge area, containing as it does a small number of tightly knit communities. If the Minister thinks that the drug barons, whose names scream across our media on a daily basis, make their money from selling drugs in just these locations, he is sadly mistaken.

To those who promote the decriminalising of drugs, or the legalising of drugs - this point has been made in the other Chamber - we have to recognise that even if that measure were taken at some stage in the future, people would still be taking drugs and there is a consequence in that, even if the middle-person has been removed from the equation in terms of sales. I am particularly happy that the focus of the Minister's speech was not limited to the inner city of Dublin, because it would be a mistake to identify this as a Dublin city-related problem, as he is well aware. However, there is very little mention of other cities, or indeed other parts of Dublin. In some ways, the only difference between the inner city and other parts of the country is that the main players in the ongoing murder campaign are, for the most part, based there, but we do know that not all of those players come from there. At least one of those major players hails from the very middle class of north Dublin. The problems are equal nationally. The answer is not necessarily more laws exclusively, but more opportunities for work, for further and continuing education, for meaningful apprenticeship programmes in their own communities, for the means of creative expression and celebration of a culture that, in the case of Dublin’s north inner city, has been swamped, smothered and colonised by financial services, tech giants and property developers, with no community gain for people who have lived there for many generations. This does not exclusively refer to Dublin city.

The drugs task forces were established initially to address the chronic heroin problem that existed in a different era, but their role is as valuable today as ever. They now embrace the problem of alcohol misuse, but with the polydrug misuse problem they need serious resources. Those effective drugs task forces need to be strongly supported, and no community resource is as close to the drug problem, besides the local Garda, as the task forces are. On the measures being proposed today by the Government through the Bill, the Minister in his capacity as Minister for Health and Deputy Byrne in her capacity as Minister of State might look at bolstering the role of those demonstrably effective drugs and alcohol task forces, which are like the proverbial child with their fingers in the dyke within their own communities. The courts, too, need to be more proactive and more speedy in processing cases. I want to take the opportunity to ask where the Government’s mini-CAB proposals are at this stage.

The Government’s new strategy on drugs will not be ready until at least the end of the year. There does not seem to be a sense of urgency about implementing measures that are badly needed, notwithstanding the measure before us today. The Minister will be aware that drugs are at the root of a huge amount of petty criminal activity in Ireland: people rob things to feed their habit. Political leadership is badly needed in this area and in this Government it is so far sadly lacking.

For the last year figures were published, which was in 2013, we were aware that over 650 people died in Ireland from drugs or alcohol poisoning. We know this from inquests and coroners' reports. They are startling figures. They are likely to be higher as more annualised figures become available to us. Behind each statistic lies the cliche of devastation and loss at some level. While this measure is to be welcomed, it can be truly welcomed as only one of a number of measures required. Education regarding the misuse of drugs has to begin as early as primary school level. For example, schools are addressing the mental health challenges that confront us through the introduction of wellness programmes at primary school level. In view of this the dangers of drugs misuse have to be highlighted much earlier and in a programmatic way. Most of all, huge energy has to be invested into helping those communities most affected by the drug problem.

I hope the Minister and the Minister of State pay close attention to the valuable contributions that have been made and will continue to be made by Opposition Deputies.

I welcome the fact that this is one in a number of steps to which the Minister claims to be committed. They all add up - one by one - to the patchwork quilt that must be adopted in order to ensure that this problem, which is not going to be eradicated, will be addressed much more constructively.

I thank Deputy Lahart and his two colleagues for their co-operation with the Chair. The next speaking slot is for Sinn Féin. Are Deputies Jonathan O'Brien and Louise O'Reilly sharing time equally?

I will take 25 minutes and Deputy O'Reilly will take five.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2016. I have followed its progression through the Seanad and have read all the contributions by Senators during its passage through that Chamber.

My party colleague in the Seanad, Senator Máire Devine, outlined our support for the Bill. She also put on the record of the Seanad our misgivings about the proposed legislation. I wish to place on the record of this House my own critique of the legislation. When enacted, this legislation will essentially have the effect of criminalising any person in possession of the listed prescription drugs when they do not have a legally-held prescription. This legislation will criminalise vulnerable drug addicts. It is as simple as that and there is no getting away from it. From the 1970s to today, Ireland has viewed drug addiction as a criminal issue rather than a public health crisis, despite Government announcements to the contrary. Introducing a criminal penalty for drug use is about as far away from this Administration's stated intention in its programme for Government of moving towards a harm reduction health care model of drugs treatment than one can possibly get.

In basic terms, what this legislation is proposing is the ability of the State to arrest, charge and convict vulnerable addicts for the possession of prescription drugs for personal use. I would be one of the first to sympathise with communities who are living with the scourge of drug use. Indeed, I have seen at first hand what it can do to families. We should be doing everything within our power to reduce drug abuse, but this legislation will certainly not achieve that goal.

During a briefing with officials from the Department of Health, it was suggested the legislation is being brought forward because the Garda had requested it in its fight against organised crime. It was also stated that there was no consultation with drug service providers in the State, nor was there any consultation with medical practitioners who are very often responsible for giving out large doses of benzos to individuals with drug addiction problems. God forbid that we might ask the drug users themselves what their needs are concerning their addictions.

This is not the first item of legislation that is being brought forward simply because the Garda wants it. Legislation that gives the Garda sweeping powers to view electronic communications is planned. Legislation that will increase penalties for women engaged in sex work is already on the schedule, all because - from what we are told - the Garda Síochána has stated that it is required. That is no way to formulate or develop justice policy, and it is certainly not the way health policy should be developed. While we must listen to Garda with regard to what powers it might like or need, we, as legislators, certainly should not be creating legal frameworks based solely on its views.

It is not good enough that Ministers talk about evidence-based models and then introduce a Bill of this nature. The Bill will not address drug use or gangland crime in the way the Minister for Justice and Equality has attempted to outline. The only people who will be affected by this Bill are drug addicts who are the problem users of unlawfully held prescription drugs and those addicts who sell on their lawfully-held prescriptions of benzos to fund their heroin addiction.

Gardaí can seize benzos held by addicts if they want, but this will not magically wipe out any debt an addict may owe to drug dealers for buying heroin. What will simply happen is that the addict will increase the amount he or she takes to sell on next time in order to pay off the debts he or she owes to local drug dealers. Criminal penalties will not have any impact on his or her addiction and will not eradicate the anti-social behaviour of dealing that sometimes goes with it.

If criminalising the possession of drugs - prescription or otherwise - had any impact on addiction rates, we would not have the highest ever rate of drug use in the history of the State. Furthermore, if it had any impact, we would not have young people walking into Mountjoy or Cork prisons and then being released with full-blown addictions that they did not have on entry. If the Government and the State as a whole were serious about addressing problematic drug use, they would be looking at investing in communities that are most affected by it. Sinn Féin will table amendments to the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 2016, which has just passed Second Stage in the Seanad. These amendments will state that all moneys seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau should be ring-fenced and put back into the communities worst affected by drugs. Earlier today, our Seanad spokesperson who put forward those amendments was contacted by a senior civil servant asking him to withdraw them on false grounds. The civil servant said it was impossible to implement the amendments and asked the Senator to withdraw them.

Problem drug use flourishes in areas of embedded poverty, with generations of unemployment, poor education standards and a lack of facilities. Policy responses from the State often give a passing acknowledgment to the environmental and social background of the drug problems affecting these communities. However, they seldom address the need to do something about the wider social and economic issues that feed drug addiction. Instead, the State pays lip service to the provision of detox facilities or rehabilitation but has no regard for the astonishing levels of social deprivation. If evidence of this was needed, the Minister should note that there are only four beds for adolescents to detox in this State. We have methadone maintenance programmes, limited needle exchanges and some excellent locally-based services that do great work in spite, rather than because, of the HSE funding structures. Far more needs to be done and there needs to be an explicit commitment to harm-reduction, health-led approaches that are matched by the policy and resources to go with them - not the reactionary nonsense contained in the Bill.

We need to move towards a model of decriminalisation of drugs for personal use along the lines of the Portuguese, Swedish or Australian models - that is, an evidence-based model based on international best practice. On Committee Stage of the Bill in the Seanad, the Minister said the policy goal was to have an evidence-based approach based on international best practice. It is ironic that in this instance we are ignoring all the evidence and international best practice by further criminalising drug addiction.

The legislation, as currently drafted, is pure rhetoric. It is about being able to say that the Government is doing something about organised crime regardless of whether what it is doing actually works. If Members think for one second that this measure will have a lasting impact on organised crime, they are sorely mistaken.

This will not result in any increase in tolerance or respect for drug users as, like those in our prisons, many consider them not worthy. They are seen as a social problem to be dealt with by the State rather than as individuals who may need medical treatment for the affliction of addiction. There will be little difference in the rates of drug use in years to come unless we tackle the core issues, such as poverty and deprivation. Without addressing those issues, we are going nowhere. This does not mean we simply provide more resources to the Garda Síochána to combat drug dealers and traffickers and the addicts criminalised by this legislation. While it is important to do that, we must also address the housing and education issues that are the basis of social exclusion.

The approach to drug policy in this State has always been marked by words that are undermined by actions. The Government established the local drugs task forces in 1997 to address the dual concentrations of problematic drug use and poverty and social exclusion. I was a member of the task force in my local area. Many of them have done great work to reduce the drug-related harm to individuals, families and communities by working in partnership with the community, the voluntary sector and the health services. However, the impact of austerity policies on whole communities and the reduction of funding to these services will impact on generations to come. Levels of poverty have increased massively since 2008. Already deprived social groups are experiencing much higher rates of poverty than others. More than half of those who live in social housing are unemployed. More than half one-parent families experience deprivation, with more than one third of them designated as being at risk of poverty, living on less than €200 per week or less than 60% of the average income. It is not surprising that some people self-medicate the trauma of growing up in poverty with drugs when they are surrounded by communities in decay because Governments choose to line the pockets of the haves rather than the have-nots.

Over the past two decades drug production, supply and consumption has changed. The types of drugs people take is dependent on what is easily accessible and how much it costs. According to HSE data, the number of people accessing methadone treatment has increased every year for the past five years. Some may see this as a good thing but we do not know if there is a definitive correspondent reduction in the number of people taking heroin. In many cases, people are taking methadone and heroin. For more than a decade we have had people described as benzo-users. It appears the State is only now waking up to that reality. Young people commonly take cannabis, cocaine and pills along with alcohol. New psychoactive substances continue to come on the market. For every drug the Government has managed to put on the controlled substance list, new ones have appeared. Gone are the days when an addict stuck to taking one drug. Polydrug use is a major issue, with persons now taking cannabis, benzos and alcohol.

This legislation will not address polydrug use. According to active drug users and those working on the ground in drug task forces are concerned, there is no shortage of drugs despite the recession. Drug use massively increased during the years the Government inflicted austerity policies on communities. If the people who design these ill-thought-out laws were to engage with people who are in the throes of addiction they would find that the years of austerity have had a major impact on them. Welfare programmes have been restructured and are now harder to access. Despite the Labour Party continuously banging on about no changes to core payments, there has been a reduction in social welfare payments. There is a lack of respite and detoxification places for those wishing to exit addiction. Despite an acknowledgement in this legislation that benzodiazepine use is a major social problem there is a severe lack of treatment options for those wishing to exit the use of benzos. The HSE drug treatment services have in many cases been rightly criticised for their lack of engagement and consultation with the community and voluntary services that support them.

As there was no work in certain areas over many years unemployment rates soared and social deprivation took grip. There was a corresponding expansion of the drug economy that destabilised these communities even further. That is no coincidence. While no one would defend the so-called drug traffickers and organised crime figures - they need to face they full rigor of the law in respect of their activities because they are the people who are destroying communities and those with addictions - it is hard not to have sympathy for a young lad who ends up in the drug economy, having grown up in a community where drugs have been prevalent for many years and there was little economic opportunity for him outside of that community. I am not making excuses for such individuals: I am simply pointing out that these are factors in young men and women ending up in the drug economy. Many start out as addicts and move on to selling drugs to fund their addiction.

The outcomes of Government policies have been negative. We are consistently moving towards the idea that if we address an individual's addiction the context in which the addiction manifested itself will be miraculously resolved. We are in the context of this Bill now in a space where there is no cognisance being taken of the outcomes of Government policy and no mind paid to the fact that individuals are not always singularly responsible for their problematic drug use. If that were the case then simply telling children in schools to say "No" would be a perfectly valid response to drug problems. We all know that this is not the case.

The approach in this jurisdiction to drug use is one based on a public system that measures outputs, effectiveness and value for money. There is no assessment of the needs of people and communities. It is based on consultants telling Departments how to run services on a skeleton crew and less money while doing more. It does not matter if "more" might not work. I recently spoke to an official from the Department about the supervised injection centres, which is a welcome, progressive initiative. However, I am concerned that these centres will operate on a pilot basis and that we are not looking beyond that to the consumption room models. However, that is a debate for another day.

In preparation for the debate on this legislation I tabled a number of parliamentary questions to the HSE on the levels of drug use. According to the HSE records, in 2014, 725 persons under 18 sought treatment for problematic drug use yet, as I said earlier, there are only four detox bed spaces available. Those 725 people are either seeking, waiting for or in the middle of a drug treatment programme. There are only two service providers in the State reported to be providing needle exchange services for individuals under 18.

We have no idea how many individuals under 18 are not in treatment or have not sought treatment. There are 10,165 registered methadone users and this figure is increasing at a rate of about 100 each year. The number of people who have entered drug treatment for specific drug problems, as opposed to alcohol use, has risen from 7,363 in 2012 to 9,046 in 2014. Clearly, policies that criminalise addicts are not working. The figures bear that out. All of the statistics indicate an increase in the problem.

One of the analyses put forward by this proposers of this Bill, such as the Minister of State and the Garda, is that the gardaí do not want legislation to go after vulnerable addicts or people with an addiction who may have prescription drugs on their person for personal use. I need only look at the crime figures from recent years to know that this will not be the case. Between 2004 and 2014, approximately 187,000 people were charged with drug offences in this State. Around 90% of them were prosecuted for possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use, resulting in a criminal conviction. Clearly, this policy of criminalisation will continue with this Bill. Leaving aside for a moment the consequences for an individual of having a minor drug conviction for possession, how can anyone suggest that this is a necessary or valid use of public money? A total of 168,000 people were convicted of having drugs for personal use.

I will return to the personal consequences of such criminal convictions. Many local authorities have a policy of Garda checks on prospective tenants and, while I do not object to this in principle, there is growing evidence that individuals with minor drug convictions are being discriminated against in housing allocation. A minor conviction for drug possession for personal use has lifelong implications for the person concerned, and I simply do not believe we should punish addicts indefinitely, even if they are no longer involved with drugs. Simply excluding former addicts with a criminal conviction from the housing process and introducing further legislation that will criminalise individuals will not address these people's poverty or addiction or the issue of antisocial behaviour that goes with drug use. People with addictions are victims of neoliberal austerity policies implemented by this Government and previous ones. I cannot see the practical benefits of supporting such a legal framework that not only will not address the issue of organised crime, as alleged, but that also target addicts actively, making the lives of some worse.

In her Seanad contribution, the Minister of State said it was the innocent victims who were most affected, and I agree completely. She went on to talk about the people with the fancy cars and houses who do not live in the country and how they are the people this legislation is concerned with. I find this a very bizarre statement when one takes it in the context of the Government's allegation that this will address organised crime while simultaneously backing up its public health approach to drugs. The Minister of State cannot have it both ways. Further punitive legislation as a policy response does not work and has never been proven to work, and this Bill simply creates scapegoats rather than solutions.

I would like to use my speaking time to discuss addiction as a public health issue and the services for addicts that are so badly needed. There are really no services to speak of to support people who are struggling. There is one adolescent bed in St. James's Hospital in the Minister of State's constituency. That would be fine if there was one adolescent in Dublin South Central struggling with drug addiction, but the Minister of State and I know that the problem that exists there far outweighs the availability of any access to services that might serve as a solution. Yet here we are rushing to put through legislation while we systematically neglect the public health aspect, which was mentioned very explicitly in the programme for Government.

Those addicted to substances might now be cut off from their supply as a result of this legislation, without any structured programme for either coming off these substances over time or decreasing their level of use. We do not want to simply criminalise the user by making possession of these drugs illegal without addressing the problems at the heart of it. The Minister of State knows what the problems at the heart of this are and the impact this legislation will have. She knows it will not solve to any great extent the systemic issues that exist.

There needs to be a very sensible approach to the situation of benzodiazepine dependence and its presence on our streets. Legislation should not just be at the forefront of that. Legislation in haste without scrutiny and without the consultation referred to by Deputy Jonathan O'Brien should most certainly not be front and centre of our considerations. In the absence of public health considerations, this legislation could be deemed to be somewhat premature. There are a lot of people dependent on the drugs we are discussing here today. We need to look at this. We need proper treatment facilities and to give people the option of trying to get off this medication. We need further counselling and addiction services and greater community supports. We need to focus on recovery and not simply management of addiction.

Problem drug use is first and foremost a public health issue. That is the Sinn Féin position and it is one that we will continue to advocate for. The provision of services aimed at reducing the harm caused by drug use and safeguarding the health of drug users must be central to any drugs strategy. This is what we should be looking at this evening. Funding for the health services is vitally needed to help addicts, but this funding has been severely cut. The services are now seriously underfunded. For many chronically addicted people, controlling or eliminating the supply of a certain drug does not necessarily result in their getting off drugs; it restricts the use of a drug. While legislation may make some changes to the landscape, it will never be a complete solution. Will this measure address the fundamental causes of problematic behaviour related to drug use or drug dealing? Has the Minister of State considered how this legislation may change trends in drug use and how services that are already without adequate resources will keep up? Has she considered how this may affect people with a benzodiazepine addiction? Has she considered the public health effects of how an addict will cope without access to a treatment bed or services?

If we are to put in place meaningful solutions to the issue of drug use, drug abuse and crime, we need more than this legislation. The Minister mentioned that this Bill is just one part of a suite of measures to respond to the situation in the north inner city, but it is not part of a suite of measures to help addicts, the socioeconomic effects of addiction or, more importantly, the drug problem at large. We need to be able to provide support at every opportunity so that people facing drugs problems personally or in their communities have access to it.

This legislation will not undo 20 or 30 years of under-investment in drug and addiction services or indeed the lack of investment in the communities affected.

This approach and legislation may shift the visibility of drug related anti-social behaviour or increase the presence and competence of the gardaí, but it will not address the root causes. The Minister of State knows that.

We need to target and deal with so-called gangland crime and those who profit from crime and drugs but this measure, standing alone and without any public health measures to accompany it or any funding for addiction services, counselling or otherwise, will not achieve the targeted aims. I have had meetings with groups and representative bodies and many of them have raised issues. Their opinion is that the process of prescriptions right from when a script is written until a person collects their drugs should be looked at. There is a view that we should be looking at a partnership model with GPs, consultants and pharmacists on accountability of how medicines are prescribed. This would allow a situation where it would be possible to follow a chain of why prescriptions were written, for whom and when. Can we or are we doing this? If we are not doing it, why are we not doing it? Are there guidelines for prescribing and dispensing these drugs? If not, why not? If there are, why are they not being implemented? There is a significant public health issue which the Minister of State is trying to avoid with this legislation.

The Deputy is way over her time.

If I could continue. We believe and will continue to advocate for a proper, organised solution to this endemic problem and not simply a sticking plaster.

I am sorry to interrupt Deputy O'Reilly but she was going over her time. My apologies. The next slot is for the Labour Party but there is nobody present.

Clearly the drugs mentioned in the Bill can be dangerous. The question here is whether criminalising possession or use of those drugs will really do anything to help the situation that confronts us. There have been many examples in many other countries of similar attempts to criminalise drugs of this kind and general character. Recently in the United States there has been a major crackdown on prescription opiates. OxyContin is an example of one of the drugs targeted in this crackdown. The result has not been a decline in drug use: it has fuelled the fires of a major heroin epidemic because it is now cheaper to access heroin and easier to get one's hands on it than some of the prescription opiates that have been cracked down on. Heroin deaths in the US have increased threefold since 2010. What started that off was a crackdown on prescription opiates in Florida. At one stage, 90% of prescription opiates were sold from a Florida base. The Guardian said of this situation: "Doctors also reported an increase in the number of babies born addicted to heroin, and Florida leads the US in new HIV-Aids infections" and "The National Institute on Drug Abuse declared a heroin epidemic in south Florida two years ago." That has been the experience in the United States.

The drugs it is being proposed to ban here are so-called Z drugs or downer drugs. Heroin is a downer drug. Action on the proposals in this Bill would create a serious possibility of a big increase in the heroin trade flowing from such a crackdown. Flowing from that we would see more deaths in the middle of what is already fast becoming a HIV outbreak in this country. The prohibition of designer drugs is resulting in the development of new designer drugs - different cocktails and combinations to circumvent the law and controls that are there at the moment. It gets good headlines in the newspapers and looks good for Government and politicians. Action is being taken in the war on drugs but it has very little or no effect on the ground in terms of solving the problems faced by communities and people in their lives and in some cases makes the situation worse.

The so-called war on drugs has failed in Ireland and internationally. It is incontrovertible at this stage - all the evidence points towards that. The real choice is one between what we have in this State - uncontrolled availability of drugs, controlled by gangsters - and the alternative - a controlled availability of drugs in the hands of the State linked to properly funded harm reduction programmes. They are the alternatives and choice that society has. Let us look at the alternative in a practical sense. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien mentioned the example of Portugal. In Portugal the use and possession of illicit drugs for personal use is no longer a criminal offence resulting in a prison sentence provided one is found in possession of no more than a ten day supply. It is now an administrative offence in the same way as a parking fine or something of that nature. There has been talk in the debate of an evidence based approach. What is the evidence from Portugal about the use of that model? I will give a statistic and information which should be central to this debate. There are now three overdose deaths per 1 million citizens in Portugal. That compares with the EU average of 17.3 overdose deaths per million citizens. Portugal has the second lowest rate in the European Union. How does that compare with the Republic of Ireland? The latest figures I have, which are from 2012, show 70 overdose deaths per million citizens compared to three in Portugal and 17.3 in the EU. Those are damning statistics. They are not just statistics; they are people's lives we are talking about here. What is the best approach to tackling this issue? There have been some welcome signs of the potential for a change in policy in this State in recent times. The example has been given of the all-party Oireachtas committee which, towards the end of the lifetime of the last Dáil, recommended that drug possession be dealt with by means of a civil response rather than through the criminal justice system. There is a second misuse of drugs Bill due to come before us in the autumn which will put on the agenda the idea of injection rooms for heroin addicts and which will deal with heroin addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal or justice one.

Recently, the new Minister, Deputy Harris, stated, "the Government intends to deliver on the commitment in the programme for Government to having a health-led rather than a criminal justice approach to drugs use". He further stated:

There is significant debate, both nationally and internationally, on the issue of decriminalisation and-or alternative approaches to the current criminal justice approach to the simple possession of small quantities of illegal drugs for personal use. The issue is also live here as part of the ongoing discussions on the drafting of a new national drugs strategy.

Those examples, the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee, the Bill due to come before us in the autumn and the quote from the Minister are all encouraging signs but they are in complete contradiction to the approach being signalled by the Government in this Act. The Government is facing both ways. There is the United States-style war on drugs approach on the one hand or the Portuguese approach on the other. We cannot face in two directions at the one time. We cannot have both. We must choose. With this Bill the Government is taking the wrong choice. It has been clearly proven by example, in this country and elsewhere, that it is the wrong choice.

I recently came across a phrase which commanded my attention: "austerity drugs". I came across it in the following context. Members will think I am a reader of The Guardian although I do not read that newspaper as often as one might think. In any case, this is another quote from The Guardian newspaper from recent times. It states:

Greece's infamous new drug, sisa, is basically meth and filler ingredients like battery acid, engine oil, shampoo, and cooking salt. The majority of its users are poor, often homeless, city dwellers reeling from the psychological and physical impacts of a country in the grip of economic collapse.

Some of these drugs cost €2 or less a hit. According to The Guardian newspaper:

For Charalampos Poulopoulos, the head of Kethea, Greece's pre-eminent anti-drug centre, sisa symbolises the depredations of a crisis that has spawned record levels of destitution and unemployment. It is, he said, an "austerity drug" – the best response yet of dealers who have become ever more adept at producing synthetic drugs designed for those who can no longer afford more expensive highs from such drugs as heroin and cocaine.

The point that is being made in that report is that interrupting the supply of drugs will have a certain effect in the short term but it will not have a medium-term or long-term effect, get to the root of the issue or be effective. Therefore, the answer rests not on the supply side but on the demand side.

We need to reduce the demand. There are many ways of doing that, but a key central way of doing so is by tackling the poverty, unemployment and austerity which make so many people, especially but not exclusively the young, want to escape the reality of their daily lives through the medium of drugs. To do that, to tackle poverty, unemployment and austerity seriously, we must tackle the root cause, which is the system of capital that causes it and which puts profit before ordinary people, and replace it with a genuinely human society which places solidarity among people ahead of the rat race of a profit system - a genuinely democratic and socialist society.

I understand Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan is sharing time. Is that correct?

Deputy Wallace will begin, followed by me and then Deputies Connolly and Broughan.

I thank Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan for letting me go first. She thinks I should be getting home to watch the match.

We are surprised Deputy Wallace is here, given the competition.

Only for the vote on the fatal foetal abnormalities legislation tomorrow, I would not be here. I would be at the two semi-finals.

There is no police force or government in the world which can claim or demonstrate that prohibition of drugs is the solution to the problems surrounding drugs, or the problem of the drugs themselves, but thankfully there are many examples from all over the world of how relaxing drug laws brings positive outcomes for everyone involved. Such examples show how lending a helping hand to those who find themselves trapped in a cycle of drug use, instead of criminalising them for needing a substance to lean on, can help them lead stable lives and save communities and families much pain and sorrow. European countries such as Portugal and Switzerland have been showing us how progressive drug policy works for decades.

The most effective way to disrupt the gangs in Ireland is to take what is estimated to be a €1 billion industry away from them. The heroin trade is booming, and a recent UN report estimates that the Irish authorities intercept less than 3% of the heroin on the market. If we really wanted to disrupt that trade, care for those addicted to the drug and do away with the stigma that surrounds it, we would follow the example of the Swiss and legally prescribe heroin in supervised injection rooms to those who need it.

British doctors used to prescribe to addicts as a matter of course heroin that was manufactured by the British state, and it did not have a heroin problem. For decades, the number of heroin addicts in Britain never exceeded 1,000 and the addicts were mainly middle aged, from all kinds of social background and, according to doctors at the time, perfectly stable and healthy.

Addiction depletes one's day-to-day existence in many respects and is a source of human suffering, but under the safe supervision of doctors, some of what are thought to be the most dangerous drugs in the world can be regularly consumed by an addict who can live a relatively stable existence. Heroin, safely prescribed by doctors, is benign, and there is no proof anywhere to the contrary. As with most drugs, it is when its production and distribution are handed over to criminals, as we have done here in Ireland, that it becomes dangerous. When heroin is pushed onto the black market, it gets cut with paracetamol, drain cleaner, sand, sugar, starch, powdered milk, talcum powder, coffee, brick dust, cement dust, gravy powder, face powder, curry powder, crushed bleach crystals - pretty much anything. When a person takes contaminated heroin, it clogs up veins and destroys them.

When heroin is illegal, street heroin addicts need to raise large sums of money. They can rob or prostitute themselves or, more easily, buy their drugs, take what they need, cut the rest with some talcum powder and sell it to others. They need to convince others to take it to expand their customer base to support their habit.

It is the laws around heroin that make it harmful, not the heroin itself, and because we insist on ensuring the criminals stay in control of this substance, those who take it will continue to suffer and die, the criminals will continue to make vast sums of money and we will continue to waste vast sums of public money intercepting a minuscule fraction of what is for sale.

In Switzerland, they saw the stupidity of this situation back in the early 1990s and have been prescribing heroin to citizens for more than 20 years. The right-wing parties there have twice tried to overturn the programme by national referendum, and twice the Swiss have overwhelmingly supported the continued prescription of heroin to heroin addicts. They saw that when heroin is illegal, the addict is trapped in a tragic vicious circle of getting money, buying heroin and having to inject, all day, every day. It becomes a job, not just an addiction. Johann Hari, in his powerful new book, Chasing the Scream, talks to those involved in administering the heroin and those receiving it. The doctors stress how the heroin programme is built around helping the patients to rebuild their lives slowly by getting therapy, a home and a job. Hari spoke to a number of heroin addicts who received treatment at one of the clinics in the city centre of Geneva. One owns a gas station and another works at a bank.

A psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Martin, who works with the heroin programme, clearly explains the work they are doing as follows:

Most addicts here come with an empty glass inside them; when they take heroin, the glass becomes full but only for a few hours and then it drains down to nothing again. The purpose of this program is to gradually build a life for the addict so they can put something else into that glass; a social network, a job, some daily pleasures. If you can do that, it will mean that when the heroin drains, you are not left totally empty. Over time, as your life has more to it, the glass will contain more and more, so it will take less and less heroin to fill it up. And in the end, there may be enough within you that you feel full without any heroin at all.

It goes without saying that the Swiss programme is and has been a huge success that has saved countless lives, while it has undermined and effectively destroyed the power of the drug dealers, who along with the conservatives and the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, are the most vitriolic opponents of the programme. The United States has chaos at the heart of its drug war and has behind bars a higher proportion of its population than any other country in the world.

In Switzerland, the gangs have no power over the addicted because the state is caring for them. The average patient uses the programme for three years, after which 85% of participants have stopped using every day. Crimes committed by those on heroin have plummeted, with 55% fewer car thefts and 80% fewer muggings and burglaries. This drop happened almost immediately after the programme started. HIV infections from heroin use have almost entirely disappeared. Why do we continue to pursue a drug policy that wastes money, kills people, destroys lives, empowers criminals and ruins neighbourhoods?

This Bill is designed to criminalise the sale and possession of certain prevalent prescription medicines. It could be pointed out that we have a problem with prescription medicines at a time when I am advocating prescribing heroin. However, a finer point needs to be appreciated. These prescription drugs are cheaper than heroin, easier to get and are just as dangerous as heroin, which is regulated by criminals. They provide a similar amount of oblivion and pain relief from a society that excels at social exclusion and inequality. Criminalising those with addiction is placing further punishment on those who are already victims of the regressive laws surrounding prohibition. They are often the victims of governments that for years now have pursued a neo-liberal agenda that promotes inequality.

As Senator Lynn Ruane has pointed out, this type of legislation will simply move people on to new drugs and when they are outlawed they will move on to other new drugs and so on. That is exactly what happened in Canada. We know that heroin is safe when prescribed and supervised by a doctor and we know that prescribing it to those who are addicted will lead to a betterment of the addicts lives, take away finance and power from the dealers, make communities safer, save the State money, and free Garda resources to pursue real crimes. They might even have the resources to properly investigate what is going on in NAMA. Why are we not even considering this as a real possibility instead of passing a Bill that will waste Garda time, make criminals rich and ruin more lives?

I stand here this evening very conscious of what has brought about this legislation and the earlier motion from the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. The frightening reality is it took several murders, which took place recently in daylight in a public street, a pub and a person's home, for this to happen. It took the murders and the responses of the communities, the residents and those working in the projects and services, to bring about a sense of urgency that has us debating these two issues. The communities and residents have been looking for that and pointing out the need for action to address the growing addiction problems. We know they are in Dublin Central but they are by no means confined to Dublin. There is not a village or town in Ireland that does not have an issue with drugs or alcohol.

The communities and projects were calling for action on the "mini-Criminal Assets Bureau" idea and dealing with the Z-drugs for a long time. I had a look back over some of the questions I have asked about this already in the few years I have been here, as well as within Private Members' business relating to addiction. In September 2014, I put a question to the Minister about dealing with the Z-drugs and I was told the problem was acknowledged and gardaí were working with relevant agencies. I raised a Topical Issue matter on this in October 2015 in which I stated that communities were flooded with what was known as Z-drugs. They are used with other drugs and alcohol and caused havoc and distress, pushing people further into addiction and causing much pain for families and the wider community. They also contributed to anti-social behaviour and criminality. The communities I represent were looking at young men who were selling these tablets, as it is mainly young men, some of them only in their late teens. In the Topical Issue debate I offered to bring the Minister of State to a couple of places within the constituency where he could buy packets of Z-tablets without any problem. I could also bring him to the people living beside this activity, where they could tell him about the nightmare of living with that open drug dealing.

I was told, in response to the questions and the Topical Issue matter, that this was a matter for the Garda. We knew its hands were tied because of a lack of appropriate legislation. Gardaí were being pressurised by communities at numerous community forum meetings and at other committee meetings and asked why they were not doing anything about this drug dealing. We know their hands were tied with that. We were told emergency legislation was needed and if it was introduced, places could be cleared of Z-drugs dealing very quickly. It was not a priority and it is very regrettable that it took those murders to bring us to this point.

We know the two relevant Acts were inadequate to deal with these tablets. A garda could have a reasonable suspicion of dealing and search a person but if tablets were found, gardaí had to give back a third of them so the person could do individual testing. The communities were looking at the open dealing and it was irrelevant to them as to whether the drug was heroin, cocaine, ecstasy or tablets; it was interfering with their lives. On a number of occasions I was on a quiet street and saw two or three young men emerge. Within seconds, there could be anything from 30 to 50 people arriving in taxis, cars or on foot. They heard through social media that the deal was on and the tablets were available. They were not just coming from Dublin as they came from far and wide. One can imagine an older person in particular living in that community, looking out the window and suddenly seeing masses of people around. The fear is palpable and gardaí were under pressure to act. They kept saying their hands were tied.

In 2012 I had a Private Members' business slot dealing with addiction. I mentioned poly-drug use at the time, specifically the increase in use of dangerous substances that are illegal and unregulated. I also mentioned the increased use of technology in accessing those substances and harm through overdoses, fatalities, long-term ill health, suicide, mental health issues and homelessness. I called on the Government to prioritise addiction as a health issue and not primarily as a criminal issue. I called on it to ensure the necessary resources were provided. I also asked that legislation be introduced to deal with the Internet sourcing and accessing of drugs and that it would apply the harmonised EU definition of a medicinal product to a new psychoactive substance so the national medicine agencies could prohibit unauthorised importation, marketing and distribution. The motion was defeated four years ago and we are speaking about the same issues now.

I read what I called for in 2012 and the irony struck me because it is coming out again in discussions with the Taoiseach, communities and projects. We were talking about supports for those high-risk, lower socio-economic populations that experience social disadvantage, which leads to addiction problems. I called for improved supports in the areas of health care, education, housing and employment opportunities, and to refrain from further cuts to the services provided by the community and voluntary sectors for those in addiction, with continuing support for special community employment schemes for those in drug rehabilitation. As we know, those projects saw cuts of between 30% and 40%. It is ironic that in 2012 there was also a murder and a retaliatory murder carried out in front of young children. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

When the Minister, Deputy Harris, discussed this in the Seanad he stated that it is an important element of the Government's arsenal in the fight against drug dealing, trafficking and consequent gangland crime. The Bill deals with a very particular aspect but we all know addiction covers a wide field. I support what the Minister and the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, are doing but we must examine other issues.

One of these relates to the unintended consequences of the legislation. The projects that work with those addicted to Z-drugs and benzos are under major pressure. Their supply is going to be interfered with when the legislation comes into force. As a result, the projects are going to need support with the additional work that they are going to be doing. There are problems in respect of detoxing from these drugs. The projects have been seeing the difficulties for those addicted to benzos in trying to bring down their use so they can reach the point where they can get into a residential programme. We know we do not have enough rehab places and the coming into force of this legislation could be the wake-up call for some in addiction to tackle their problems, particularly if they can access rehab and other services at that point. We do not want them left in the precarious position of looking for alternative drugs. We know there are plenty of those around, from crystal meth to heroin to crack cocaine. The more addicts that get into recovery, the better it will be for them, their families and communities and also for our economy. We know the cost of this, through the health system and through the justice system.

Another aspect is the care planning and case management for individuals in addiction treatment, rehab and recovery. We must also look at the methadone protocol. I acknowledge the stabilising effect of methadone. I know young people and older individuals who were able to improve their lives because they were on methadone, but it is only a part of a treatment process. Methadone is not a stand-alone treatment, so there is a need for frequent monitoring and reduction of dosages. Those on methadone need access to other services and treatment through primary health care. Methadone, except in very extreme circumstances, should not be a long-term strategy. Diagnoses of HIV are increasing among those injecting the drug snow blow. I recently attended an event hosted by HIV Ireland at which this matter was highlighted and at which literature on harm reduction, which shows people what to do, was available.

The SAOL Project works with women in addiction and it developed a really valuable programme called Reduce the Use. Again, this was very practical, helping people to respond to their key drug issues and also for the professionals who work with them. It made practical suggestions about the skills and tools needed, about cravings and relapse prevention and about negative thinking. It was giving people in addiction the chance to work on their addiction at their own pace and in their own space.

I will move on to decriminalising possession of small amounts for personal use. It is not right that people are carrying this charge with them for the rest of their lives, but we also need to look at how some who are in recovery for quite a number of years are prevented from progressing in education and in study because they have a criminal record. The bigger picture relates to the question of the legalisation. We need a debate on this and I hope we can have it. The decriminalisation of the possession of small amounts is the easy part. Fr. Peter McVerry does not like the word “legalisation”. He would prefer to talk about controlling the supply of drugs. He sees it as the State taking control of the supply of drugs. We know one immediate effect would be getting at the criminal gangs and cutting off their sources of wealth.

I also want to mention the Recovery Academy, which came about as a result of a symposium of over 100 people, the majority of whom were in recovery. They were acknowledging the role of harm-reduction measures and getting people into treatment, but the challenge then was to encourage individuals to move from treatment into recovery. Again, the Recovery Academy came up with solutions that were practical, achievable and cost-effective. It was about reorienting services to a recovery paradigm. I hope the Ministers of State mention at the consultation process in which they are hoping to engage that those groups I have mentioned – the Recovery Academy, the SAOL Project and Soilse – will have a space there. They have been there before. They have been involved in other consultation processes. We are all talked out on this. People know what needs to be done and what can be done. At a recent Recovery Academy meeting I met a group from England that was presenting. With £1 million, they had been able to open Recovery Central. This is a café - with a space for business incubation units and with social enterprises - for those in recovery. It was on a high street, so it was visible and was, therefore, also making a contribution to tackling the stigma attached to being in addiction.

We know all the pillars of the national drug strategy – control of supply, treatment and rehabilitation – but prevention and education are the Cinderellas of the process, of that there is no doubt. I was involved with prevention and education in the North Inner City Drugs and Alcohol Task Force and we ran a number of conventions for young people. There were four in all, with about 400 young people attending. They came from fifth year and transition year classes in the north-east and north-west inner city. The conventions were facilitated by the youth leaders, but it was a listening exercise with young people and they were very willing to engage, because they appreciated that they were being listened to. There was no telling them because they were aware of all of those dangers. Some of them were prepared to take those risks.

We also looked at intervention and prevention. The levels of intervention and prevention varied greatly. I know I am a former teacher, but I really feel that we need to look at prevention and education in a different way. We should not just land it on schools because there are so many difficulties attached to schools in the context of this issue. The young people to whom I refer very much appreciated the fact that we were willing to listen to their views and we produced a report on foot of what was said. They were certainly willing to look at ways that would get those of them who were into drug and alcohol abuse to think. There was a significant number of individuals who were not into those things, but it was about getting those who were abusing drugs and alcohol to stop and think about what they were doing, why they were doing it, what the dangers are if they go this route, what else they could do or how they could help themselves in a better way.

I hope there will also be a space for young people in the consultation process, especially young teenagers from the areas that are most affected, to come in and give their views. Equally, I hope there will be a space for the users forum, UISCE, which is represented on the North Inner City Drugs and Alcohol Task Force. It has a really strong contribution to make in this area. What the Ministers of State are doing is welcome, and it will certainly be welcomed by the communities in the north inner city. However, it constitutes some very small steps on a much longer road.

As has been pointed out, this Bill comes before the Dáil consequent on the recent series of murders in Dublin’s north inner city. The Minister for Health confirmed in the Seanad on 15 June that the Bill had been expedited in response to those murders and because the Government and the Garda Síochána were both of the view that controlling these products under the misuse of drugs legislation would lead to more effective enforcement. In fact, it appears this was the one tool the Garda had specifically requested. While I fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation in Dublin’s north inner city and acknowledge the actions taken by the Government, I have serious concerns about the idea that this Bill is the most effective way to deal with the situation. My doubts are further heightened by the failure to include the promised provisions for supervised injecting facilities. These provisions would have enabled the Minister for Health to issue licences permitting the establishment of supervised injection facilities to provide enhanced clinical support and to mitigate the problem of public injecting by chronic drug users. These provisions have now been kicked down the road.

Most importantly, there is no urgency to the recognition by the Government that continuing down the road of criminalising the use of drugs is not working and that other countries have recognised this and taken a different approach or are in the process of doing so. Put simply, the war on drugs has not worked and it certainly has not worked for those who are criminalised for their use of drugs. The European Drug Report 2016 states that the majority of reported drug law offences relate to the possession of drugs for personal use, rather than for sale. In Europe overall, it is estimated that more than 1 million of these offences were reported in 2014. That is an increase of 24% on the figure that obtained in 2006. Of the reported drug offences, more than three quarters involved cannabis, so we have a significant amount of Garda resources going into charging people with the use of drugs and a very low success rate in the conviction of drug dealers.

If we return to alternative ways of dealing with this, Portugal - a small country like Ireland - recognised in the 1990s that the drug problem had become one of the main concerns of the public, as had the significant increase in the number of people infected with HIV-AIDS and other associated illnesses. My knowledge of Portugal comes from a report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, whose members visited Lisbon and studied the situation there.

That report acknowledges that drug abuse was not confined to any particular social class but was a universal problem. It also noted that not all addicts were using illicit drugs but were in some cases addicted to prescription drugs. To criminalise, rather than treat, this group of people was viewed as wrong. The first step in Portugal was to remove responsibility for this matter from the justice department and reassign it to the health department. It was also noted that, while it was still an offence to take or possess drugs, the offence is now treated in a similar way to a traffic offence. This provision applies only to possession of a quantity equivalent to up to ten days' supply for personal use. Any person found in possession of drugs must report within 72 hours to a commission for addiction dissuasion for a treatment programme tailored to the individual's needs to ensure the best possible result. The report is worth reading because a number of things are highlighted by the joint Oireachtas committee about the system in Portugal. One advantage is that a person ends up with no criminal record. This is an important component of the approach. The purpose of this provision is to allow the person a second chance to turn his or her life around.

The importance of education was also mentioned. They mentioned the importance of breaking the cycle and highlighted the fact that drug addicts have the opportunity to move away from a life of drugs through positive discrimination when it comes to gaining employment. The system offers employers tax breaks to employ recovering addicts and the state will pay the employee's salary. The employer is required to release the employee for treatment and counselling until his or her programme has concluded. The delegation was told that, in many cases, these employees gained full-time employment and did not go back to using drugs. Deputy Wallace has given other examples, but this is one the Oireachtas looked at. The delegation may not have agreed with the approach, but it certainly thought it was well worth looking at.

The outcome in Portugal has not been an increase in drug taking, nor has it resulted in Portugal becoming a destination for drug tourists. The report sets out the fears that were expressed when the relevant legislation was passed and the outcome 15 years later. It states that drug consumers are no longer looked upon or treated as criminals, either by the authorities or by society. They become less dependent on traffickers and police discretion, and the system has saved money by avoiding thousands of criminal cases dealing with drug consumption, which is very important for police resources, as such cases cost time and money with absolutely no gain.

Closer to home, we have the report from the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK, called Taking a New Line on Drugs. It states, "We need a new, people-centred approach to drug policy, rooted in public health and the best available evidence." The time for reframing the global approach to illicit drugs is long overdue and the imbalance between the criminal justice and health approaches to illicit drugs is counterproductive. This is a high-level report published in the past couple of months. It assessed the situation in the UK as regards the rising harm to health from illegal drugs, with reference to their context within the wider drug-scape, including legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, which is particularly important given that we were all at a briefing on the Alcohol Bill today. It sets out a new vision for a holistic, public-health-led approach to drugs policy at a UK-wide level. Indeed, the executive summary states:

At both individual and population level alcohol and tobacco cause far greater harm to health and well being than many of their illegal counterparts. Tobacco kills the most people and alcohol is not far behind with death rates from alcohol misuse on the rise. Alcohol and tobacco use alone costs society more than all class A drugs combined.

It also discusses decriminalising the personal use and possession of all illegal drugs and diverting those whose use is problematic into appropriate treatment centres.

I will finish by asking the Minister to look at these reports and at international evidence and best practice and to let them determine the next strategy and the next piece of legislation that comes before this Dáil so that we can all work together and tackle a problem that will not be tackled by criminalising drug users.

I am pleased to speak on this Bill but it is regrettable that the attendance is so poor, which reflects the general attitude of the political establishment towards issues associated with drug misuse. I welcome the new Minister in her new role. I had the opportunity to meet and greet her in Ballymun in my own constituency last week and we appreciated her visit to the area. I know she has a very keen interest in substance misuse and other issues associated with disadvantaged areas and I am sure she will be a big success in the job.

As a previous occupant of the position, though I shared it with a number of other responsibilities, I very much welcome the fact that we now have a Minister of State who is dedicated and has sole responsibility for substance misuse. I encourage the Minister to be as vocal as possible within Government on the issues associated with drug misuse which ravage so many of our constituencies and our communities across the country. I also strongly encourage her to meet on a regular basis with those involved in the local drugs task forces and in regional drugs task forces. They are a sounding board for what is actually happening on the ground and if she builds up a good relationship with them she will be very well informed about not only the scale of the problem and what is and is not working but emerging trends too. That is important because the drug problem changes all the time and the substances involved change on a regular basis.

Some of the Minister of State's previous party colleagues did not place any great value on the role of the drugs task forces or their valuable role in combatting the drug problem in Ireland. There have been various attempts in recent years to contain local community groups, including drugs task forces, but despite the attempts of Ministers the task forces remained outside their control and I am very glad about that. Many other community organisations were closed down, however, and communities are paying a big price for that. There have been huge cutbacks in community funding compared to what was available in previous years. This may have been seen as an economising measure but will not turn out to be so in the medium and long term. The funding withdrawn from disadvantaged communities was the glue that kept many of them together, and we will pay a price for the cutbacks.

I very much welcome the publication of this Bill. It has been a very long time coming. In August 2002 the local drugs task force in Ballymun and YAP, the organisation the Minister of State met last week, produced a report called Mother's Little Helpers, and this was already identified as an emerging problem. There was a tendency to over-prescribe benzodiazepines and Z drugs, a practice that was replicated across many disadvantaged communities, with women, often young mothers, going to GPs and public health nurses showing all the signs of stress associated with social disadvantage and having to cope with rearing families in very poor conditions.

It was often the case that the general practitioner took out the pad and wrote a prescription. Certainly, there was a significant problem with over-prescribing of benzodiazepines going back that far.

In the past seven or eight years the local drugs task forces became aware of this as a very significant problem and the profile of the problem had changed somewhat. It was still associated with over-prescribing but it was also associated with the widespread availability of prescription drugs. Some of those were finding their way onto the streets through leakage from over-prescribing but other amounts were being brought in at the ports and airports. Increasingly in recent years we have seen where large quantities were brought in by ordering them on the Internet.

Over the past four years or so there seemed to be very little political leadership on this issue in the Department. That is regrettable. For whatever reason it seems to have slipped down the political agenda. It certainly did under the previous Government, along with the need to prioritise the whole area of drug abuse, drug treatment and rehabilitation. It is very much welcome that it is finally back on the agenda. It is unfortunate that it took very serious incidents and a high escalation in gangland crime, particularly in the north inner city, to get it back on the agenda because some of us in this House have been raising it over a number of years. It was not taken to be a serious issue, mainly because it predominantly affected working class areas, and there had not been much interest on the part of the previous Government in issues affecting such areas. It took the explosion in gangland crime in the north inner city and public opinion demanding that something be done. When this blew up, a number of Ministers suddenly discovered that there was a very serious problem and it does not just affect the north and south inner city. It has now taken a hold throughout the country. Second only to the problem of alcohol misuse is the problem of prescription drug misuse. A problem that was confined to disadvantaged areas a number of years ago has become a scourge throughout the entire country. Prescription drugs, benzodiazepines and Z drugs seem to be the drugs of choice for vast numbers of people and they are freely available in every city and town. As a result of largely neglect at an official level, we now have a major problem that has to be tackled and it is very regrettable that it has got to this point before any serious action has been taken.

Front-line workers across several different disciplines have been calling for this measure for years. My local drugs task force in Ballymun, of which I am a member as are other public representatives in the area - I was also a member of the Finglas drugs task force - called for it but it is coming back from all of the drugs task forces, and has been for several years, that this is the second biggest problem in regard to substance abuse, second only to alcohol misuse.

What was identified a number of years ago during my short time in the Department of Health was the need to introduce regulations to tackle this area. We thought we were in a situation where primary legislation was required and, as a result of a Supreme Court ruling last week, we do not need that primary legislation but I am glad that we are at least having an opportunity to discuss this issue here.

It is very difficult to discuss the issue in the absence of regulations. We have heard various Members in this House and in the other House talking critically about these proposals and, on the face of it, it does appear that this is an attempt to criminalise people who have addiction problems with prescription drugs. I do not believe that is the intention of it. If the kind of regulations that will come forward shortly are like those that were produced in draft form four or five years ago, I would be very confident that that is definitely not the intention of this legislation. The intention of this legislation is clearly to tackle the problem of the street dealing of prescription drugs, which is widespread. Various people, including the Garda and the customs service, have been calling for urgent action in this area for several years.

It is unfortunate that we do not have the regulations to consider now. It would be helpful from the point of view of the public debate, the debate in this House and in the Seanad if we had the regulations because they would explain what is behind this move to legislate in this area. It would also be helpful if there was input from Members of this House to those regulations. I hope they are sound and robust and that they take into consideration all aspects of the problem, but it would be helpful if we could see them. Bearing in mind that they are secondary legislation the Minister of State is not obliged to debate them. She just lays them before the House, but I ask her to consider allowing some Government time for a discussion on the regulations, ideally prior to them being signed. That is not an excuse for delaying them by any means. If we had sight of the regulations now it would allow for far better scrutiny of the Bill, and it is unfortunate they were not published in advance. I hope there is no further delay.

The substance of the Bill is sound. The primary purpose is to control certain drugs and to try to tackle the street dealing of prescription drugs, especially benzodiazepines and Z drugs.

It is important that people who have spoken against the Bill and those who have raised concerns are clear about its primary purpose. Obviously, it will do very little on its own, and no one is claiming that it will. The country does not just need new laws; we know it needs new drug services. We need to concentrate particularly on rehabilitation. There is a need to update the national drugs strategy and I recognise that is under way. It is critical that the new strategy includes all aspects of alcohol misuse because until recently there was concern that alcohol might be an afterthought or not included at all.

There is a need for many more dual diagnosis places for people with combined mental health and addiction issues. Many people who contributed to this debate in both Houses talked about the reasons people get involved in substance misuse. We have a major problem with it in this country, whether it is alcohol, prescription drugs, heroin or what are called recreational drugs. For some reason there is a basic problem in the Irish psyche. Large numbers of Irish people want to get out of their heads on a very regular basis. Many people spoke about the fact that very significant numbers of people are in serious pain for one reason or another. It is pain caused by abuse, neglect, isolation or alienation. That is very much at the heart of the Irish psyche and we need more study of that area. We talk about responses to substance misuse but we spend very little time researching the root causes of it and the reasons people feel they have to take steps to numb their minds and get out of it. That is not just an issue affecting disadvantaged communities but it is something I believe warrants further research.

I first became aware of this problem in 2002 in Ballymun but also in the past seven, eight, nine or ten years where it was a consistent issue arising at the local drugs task force meetings in Ballymun. The problem was with misuse and over-prescribing. There was a very significant problem of polydrug use and other Members referred to that. There was very high usage of prescribed drugs in comparison to other countries.

That also warranted further investigation.

During my short time in the Department of Health we undertook a study to look at prescribing patterns. We only had access to data as it related to public patients. We looked at prescribing patterns of GPs across the State. There was a wide variation among GPs in the quantities and durations of prescriptions. There were some very serious cases. In one example a person was arrested and in other situations there had to be serious interventions by the HSE with direct approaches to GPs to ensure they changed their prescribing practices. GPs themselves welcomed the information. Many of them are operating on their own in their practice and they welcomed the data showing how they compared to their peers. That basic information is the starting point to changing practice. I do not know if that project is ongoing but it is important that it would continue. We need to investigate and invigilate what is happening in patterns of prescribing. Academic studies and Department of Health studies have over the years shown that Ireland is out of line with other European countries in the high level of prescribing of sedatives and benzos.

It is a long time since the problem of street trading in prescription drugs became apparent, especially in the Dublin area. I recall when I was in the Department of Health four or five years ago, one could actually look out from the Department and see dealing going on directly underneath the windows, all around the Screen cinema and on the Liffey boardwalk. It was public and open and everybody wondered how on earth this was going on under the eye of the Garda, the Department of Health and everybody else. When there was consultation and engagement on this problem by the law enforcement agencies and other players the Garda made it clear that its hands were tied regarding the policing of this problem. The gardaí would stop people who appeared to be dealing on the street and who may have had a few packets of benzos or Z drugs in their pockets. However, because it was not an offence to be in possession of any quantity of benzos, gardaí had to prove not only possession but also intent to supply. That was the difficulty and why it was so hard to police the issue.

With regard to the Customs and Excise, whose job it also was to police the problem, there were people coming in to the State with holdalls full of prescription drugs bought or accessed in Spain, Portugal or elsewhere. The difficulty again, at airports and ports, was proving intent to supply. The law enforcement agencies have been looking for the law to be tightened in this area for many years. It was seen by the establishment as a niche issue and was neglected for far too long.

It is very easy to order supplies of these drugs, in large quantities, over the internet. The regulations a few years ago said that if a person was found in possession of prescription drugs they had to prove they had permission for them in one of two ways: either a prescription from the GP which would entitle a person to have benzos or Z drugs, or a licence to import. I assume that the regulations would be the same in that regard. There are associated problems when the substances being misused are legal and can be prescribed such as steroids. Very large numbers of people are now addicted to steroids which are available on the street, on the black market and are part of the whole poly-drugs scene.

Another issue which has recently come to light is the widespread availability of tanning pills. Apparently, tanning pills, which can be bought on the street and can be accessed through friends or over the Internet, have the effect of making a person very hyper, they cannot sleep and they become agitated. In order to counteract the impact of tanning pills people are also taking large quantities of benzos, sleeping tablets or Z drugs. This is an emerging phenomenon which has become obvious over the last year or so. This is what happens when a black market exists for prescription drugs which are very dangerous when taken in the wrong way or in large quantities. I hope that tanning pills, or the substances in the tanning pills, will be added to the list and will be covered by the regulations.

There are many statistics that show the scale of the problem in this country regarding the abuse of some prescription drugs. Two fifths of poisonings in 2013 involvedbenzodiazepines. We know that 57% of deaths where alcohol was implicated involved other prescription drugs, mainly benzos. We know that 94% of deaths where methadone was implicated involved other drugs, mainly benzos. We also know that 72% of deaths where heroin was implicated involved other drugs, mainly benzos.

I pay tribute to the excellent work done in the Department five years ago on this issue. The senior people involved there were Marita Kinsella and Siobhan Kenna who did extraordinary work. It is unfortunate that the work came to a standstill and was left to gather dust for the last number of years. When I left the Department in September 2012 I had signed off on draft regulations. I accept that there was a need for primary legislation but in the meantime there has been a huge amount of slippage and very little attention paid by people who have been in the Department in recent times.

As well as restrictions on possession and the intent to supply there are proposed restrictions on prescribing. We know that benzos should only be prescribed for a limited period of time, should be reviewed on a regular basis and there should be no practice of repeat prescriptions. That has been addressed with a number of patient groups and while there were concerns regarding people with epilepsy I believe that special arrangements were made in their case.

There was widespread consultation five years ago with all of the different players, the law enforcement agencies, the drugs task forces, the patient groups, etc. An important development in recent years was the creation of the community national counselling service. We cannot underestimate the demand there is for a national counselling service. It is very welcome that it has been rolled out so far but it is still quite patchy and there are major parts of the country that are not covered.

To those Members in the House and in the Seanad who had concerns about this I would say that the overwhelming feedback from front-line workers is that these provisions are long overdue. That has certainly been the feedback from the gardaí. Their difficulties could be addressed by these measures and they could be much more proactive in tackling this problem. Drug dealers have been flouting the law by carrying relatively small amounts knowing that they could get away with it.

Feedback from front-line medics is that misuse of these substances continues to be a very significant problem and that such use is very disruptive of care plans. It is very demoralising for staff working in drug treatment centres who prepare their care plans, get their clients onto a programme and then their clients are bombarded on the street by offers of benzos and Z drugs. This is what is happening. People are being bombarded and it is very difficult for those who have addiction problems to avoid this. They are given the drugs for free initially in order to get them into taking them.

Very quickly they get caught up in that tangled web. Feedback from client community workers is that the misuse contributes to serious anti-social behaviour and that this law is desperately needed. To those Members who have concerns about this, who balk at the idea of it, it is important to point out this is not a case of criminalising those with addiction problems but those who deal in death, in these substances that are so dangerous. We need to strengthen the law to ensure we can tackle this problem and take control of it.

I have serious concerns about the oversight of drug treatment services. We spend €100 million per annum on drug treatment yet there is little or no accountability, research or examination to see whether we are getting value for money. It is a huge budget to dole out on methadone. That seems to be the problem and there is no review of the value of this treatment. As statistics are not always automatically collected I encourage the Minister of State - if she has not been provided with them to date - to get answers to a number of questions. For example, what do we know about methadone treatment, are we getting value for money, is it making a difference to people’s lives and how long are people in methadone treatment? Many people have been getting this treatment for ten years and more but there has been no intervention to get them to start on a road to recovery. Recovery must be restored to the lexicon of drug treatment. In recent years we have tended to forget about recovery and to concentrate on maintenance. Rehabilitation and recovery must be the by-words in the approach to drug and substance misuse generally.

While we need to tackle these problems and to be much more innovative in ensuring there are proper care plans for all people with addiction problems we must vastly expand the range of drug treatment services available, particularly to the many people who are addicted to prescription drugs. The level of service for such people is very limited. There was an element of turning a blind eye and regarding the problem as minor. We do not have significant drug treatment services for people addicted to prescription drugs.

When the law is changed and the approach to the widespread availability of prescription drugs changes there will be many people desperately looking for treatment. We have to ensure the system is geared for that. The Minister of State should talk to the people working in community addiction services and the drugs task forces because they have a handle on the scale of demand there will be for services. It is important to be geared up for that and that the system can cope with the demand.

While there are very significant problems with substance misuse across the population, we cannot get away from the fact that the problem is most pronounced in areas of severe disadvantage. Providing drug treatment services and awareness is important. Tackling the supply of drugs is critically important and that is where this legislation will play a role. Unless we change the conditions that lead people to self-medicate in an effort to block out the issues that make their lives very difficult we will not get to the root of this.

Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle nua. Níl sé fógartha go fóill so nílim chun a ainm a rá.

This is a very important debate and I welcome the legislation the Minister of State has proposed. It is timely and has been brought forward because of appalling deaths and criminality in parts of inner city Dublin. It is urgent and necessary because the substances named in this legislation, and I presume others which should be allowed to be added, will help fight the criminality involved. We must never forget that the communities that misuse drugs most are the ones that are most disadvantaged. They are the communities where people have the least education, the poorest health, the highest unemployment rate and the highest number of people in prison. We need a more holistic approach as a society to fight this. This is not an attack on the Government. We must have a new vision for change. It is obvious what we must do. We must go into the communities that suffer the greatest poverty and deprivation. We know this is what we should do, particularly in terms of education. Pre-school education must be an absolute priority. It makes a huge difference to children from disadvantaged homes to get an extra year or two of pre-school education. When they start normal school they can compete with their peers from any other part of the community. We need to accelerate the engagement and involvement in education and health care in these communities.

I used to be a teacher agus a Cheann Comhairle, bhí tusa i do mhúinteoir freisin tráth, and I know from my experience of 27 years in a classroom exactly how difficult people find it to come to school if they have not had a breakfast or if they do not have a parent at home. I know how difficult it is for a school to address the issues of young children with behavioural problems when there is nobody at home to look after them or when the culture in the home does not give high priority to education. I am not preaching but I am saying we need to intervene earlier. The significant increase in the ability of people to reach the very best in their lives in the most disadvantaged communities is measured by the earlier and the broader the education they get. That is the first area to tackle.

Affirming the importance of these communities and putting the resources into them is very important. I welcome the homework clubs, the garda liaison officers and all the community workers involved in many if not all of these communities. That is leading to change. The Minister of State is well aware of these problems in her constituency. Health care is also important, as is educating mothers and fathers in parenting. People have suffered in recent years, particularly in the communities where drugs are most prevalent because of the recession and increased unemployment and they have poor self-esteem. The poorer communities have suffered most in the recession. As the economy improves we must give more back to these communities, identify and prioritise their needs. Fighting drugs and fighting crime is very important but we must do much more. Many people grow up in communities that do not have proper sports facilities, sports centres or decent youth clubs. We need to support all of the existing organisations that are involved in these communities, we need to increase investment in those communities and the number of professionals who can intervene, support, acknowledge and work with people who are poor and outside our society.

It can be very sad when people get into trouble for taking drugs. I had a 14 year old student who once in his life took gas from a cylinder in a derelict house.

Unfortunately, he died that day. It was very sad because he never had a home or an opportunity to get what he should have got, namely, the care and support that he needed. That is an extreme case, but it did happen. All of us who worked with that child remember him well.

It is a tragedy for our society when we read about the inquests into those who have died as a result of taking drugs at parties or whatever. It is very sad to look at the faces in newspapers of the fine young people who had all of their lives to live but are in their graves because of drugs they should not have taken or because they took an overdose. As we all know, taking an overdose or drugs is often a cry for help. We can and must do more.

I am aware of a number of gardaí who have a vision for change. I am aware of a number of primary school teachers and gardaí who are alert to all of these issues. Like Deputy Shortall, I am aware of community workers involved in this area. The more involvement, investment and affirmation of individuals the better their lives and the better our society will be.

In the recent recession the question of homelessness, families being brought up in hotels and people living in abject poverty who did not know when they would be put out of their accommodation arose. The Government has taken action on that, which I welcome. Nevertheless, the voices that I hear articulating their needs, concerns and worries say they are still in danger. We still need to do more. I welcome and very much support the Government initiative on housing. The Chairman of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness, who came from the other side of the House, was exceptionally incisive and decisive in producing an excellent report. We need to deal with housing issues.

This is about giving people back their lives and giving communities a chance to shine. Nobody can argue against the idea that the better the educators in schools, the better children will perform. Some involved in education will disagree with me, but it is not about class size. Rather, it is about teaching and the capacity of teachers to educate and deliver. Teachers are not born. They are made, trained and get involved in their communities. We need and must have that. We need to put even more resources into training primary school teachers, in particular. We also need to put more resources into preschools and support all communities.

I again affirm the importance of what the Government is doing in this recession. I acknowledge the disaster the recession was for all of us, in particular for poor families. We must never forget their needs and the lives they have to face. We must never forget the children who go to school without breakfast in their stomachs and who go home to houses where nobody gives them a welcome smile at the door. These are the areas in which we have to intervene. Unfortunately, these are the communities that become involved in the abuse of alcohol and drugs. The issue is broader than that, but we need to focus in particular on those communities.

I refer to the policy of Tusla in regard to child care and the role and importance of regulating the care of children in care, in particular in the private sector.

Tá brón orm cur isteach orth ach an bhfuil tú chun an t-am ar fad a úsáid tú féin-----

Sea. Úsáidfidh mé é.

-----nó an bhfuil tú chun cuid de a roinnt le do chomhghleacaithe?

Does Deputy Fitzpatrick want some time?

No, I need five minutes.

Okay, I will finish shortly. Tá sé thar a bheith in am dúinn ár ndícheall a dhéanamh chun saol na ndaoine a bhfuil ag tógáil drugaí a athrú. Ar an gcéad uair eile, beidh mé ag caint faoi Tusla-----

Tá an t-am agat. Tá níos mó ná cúíg nóiméad fágtha.

Bhí mé chun a rá faoi Tusla ná go bhfuil jab aige ó thaobh daoine óga de ach go h-áirithe a bhfuil i ndainséar ó thaobh a n-aithreacha nó a máithreacha nó an áit ina bhfuil siad ina gcónaí, agus díriú ar an sórt saol a bhfuil acu i dtreo agus go mbeadh saol níos fearr acu. Bhí tuairiscí le déanaí faoi contaetha Lú agus na Mí, the Louth-Meath report from Tusla in 2015, which was appalling and dealt with child care and child welfare in those counties. It identified very significant problems with child welfare and child care. Subsequent to that, and due to the intervention of Tusla and the greater involvement of the HSE and other child care providers in County Louth, there has been a significant change and things are improving. I continue to be concerned about the value for money we are getting from some private service providers which provide child care facilities in remote rural areas to children who have been placed in care, often by the courts. Some have no footpaths or places for recreation. The children may not be from the community and are being watched 24 hours a day. These issues lead to some of the problems of which Deputy Fitzpatrick and I are aware.

We need to re-examine the type of interventions available for children in care or who are in trouble with the courts. Not all interventions are successful or welcome. Private service providers offer their facilities to Tusla. In doing so, they decide where the places are and many other things. They are extremely well paid. The State pays, on average, about €250,000 a year for each child that is in care. It is a major resource and I welcome the money that is spent, but I am not satisfied that it is properly spent in every case. I have given my colleague an extra two minutes.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 is very important and one with which I fully agree. The amendment has a number of primary aims, including preventing the misuse of certain dangerous or harmful drugs and helping law enforcement authorities deal more effectively with trade in certain substances. The misuse of drugs, in particular prescription drugs, is a major issue in society today. In large urban centres such as Dundalk and Drogheda, the problem is becoming more evident. I am of the opinion that the misuse of drugs legislation is an important element in the Government's fight against drug dealing and trafficking and the gangland crimes that occur.

Some of the issues raised in regard to tackling drug crimes include the fact that drug dealers carry small quantities of drugs when on the streets, which can make it more difficult for gardaí to charge a person with the sale or supply of drugs. This Bill will enable the possession of controlled medicines to be made an offence for those in possession of drugs illegally but will not affect either those who have a prescription for drugs or health care professionals.

In addition to controlling a number of prescription drugs, the Bill will also control a number of substances which the European Union has identified as being harmful and open to abuse. I am glad that the Bill includes the drug N-bomb which, as we know, was responsible for a tragic incident in Cork last year where one person died and five others required hospital attention.

Drug related deaths are also a cause of concern for me. In 2012`, there were 189 reported deaths related to drugs, and this figure rose to 219 in 2014. I am deeply concerned about the rise in drug related deaths and we need to do more in this regard. Proper education at a young age on the effects of drugs is vital if we are to combat this problem. We need to be more proactive in educating the younger generation on the effects of taking illegal drugs. Drug-taking not only affects the user but also his or her family and friends.

It is the families and friends of drug users who have to pick up the pieces and get the person back on the straight and narrow. A major cause of concern for parents of teenagers in Dundalk was the fact that drug dealers were targeting students outside local secondary schools.

I received many calls from concerned parents about the practice. They told me there were young men outside schools, who had no attachment to the schools, who were attempting to sell drugs to the students as they left the school. That is a particularly nasty practice which targeted vulnerable young teenagers. Great credit must go to Sergeant Eugene Collins from the Dundalk community policing unit who targeted the activity. With the increased resources given in the last year to the Garda in Dundalk, gardaí were able actively to patrol the areas around the schools at certain times of the day. Initially, they targeted two schools in the town which resulted in an immediate decrease in the activity of the drug dealers. I thank Eugene Collins and his team in Dundalk for taking the initiative in that way to take on the drug dealers proactively. It was a great relief to parents and the schools to see the initiative being undertaken.

I firmly believe that we must educate the younger generation on the effects of drug taking. I suggest the process must start in primary school. We must make children aware that drugs are simply not cool. They must be educated on the dangers of drugs. They must realise the serious harm and long-lasting effects of drug taking. We must help those who are responsible for educating young children by providing increased resources to warn about the dangers of drug taking.

I welcome the fact the Minister recently announced a new action-based national drugs strategy which will be published later this year. I urge him to include an education programme as part of the strategy, aimed at primary schoolchildren and students in secondary schools, to outline the danger of drug taking.

I welcome the Bill. Its primary aims will prevent the misuse of certain dangerous or harmful drugs and also assist the Garda to deal more effectively with drug dealers. In conjunction with that, I urge the Minister to work closely with his ministerial colleagues in other Departments, especially the Department of Education and Skills, to develop a programme to outline the grave dangers of the use of drugs. I passionately believe that if we can convince the younger generation of the real dangers of drugs in society then we will go a long way towards reducing the number of people, particularly young people, who misuse drugs. Go raibh maith agat.

I wish to share time with Deputy Eugene Murphy.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill. Drug misuse is a societal issue. I passionately believe there are communities around the country that are affected by drugs, not just in the larger urban centres. We, as a society, have been ignoring their plight, collectively and individually for a long time. Some politicians more than others play on people's fears rather than focus on providing solutions to the problem. They constantly do people down, play the big bad wolf or encourage the State to act as Big Brother looking down on people without engaging with them.

In the past 60 years or so major housing developments were provided in Limerick and parts of Dublin where crime has continued to flourish. The in-depth media reports on such areas go into the background and analyse generational poverty and drug use. They show how such people are outside of societal norms. They drop out of school early and fall prey to a raft of issues. The major housing developments of that time were built without the proper infrastructure to make sure a normal society could develop. The State has paid an enormous price for the policies of developing major urban centres such as Moyross in Limerick and in some parts of Dublin, and we continue to pay the price. Hardly a month goes by without a shooting incident in parts of this country, which are all drug related. Significant amounts of money can be got from drugs and major issues arise in terms of how the drug problem is being addressed.

We have called for the Bill that is before us to come to the House for some time because of the devastation caused to families and communities. Significant amounts of money from various State agencies are put into resource centres and trying to deal with the issues. More resources are required, especially given the cutbacks that ensued during the years of austerity in recent times, but we must examine where the money is going. I believe between 15% and 20% of society is not engaged. I include the very youngest to the oldest people in that cohort. They are not engaged in remaining in school. They are not engaged in second level education or any aspect of the State or society. That is having a disastrous consequence on young people.

Reference has been made to the abject poverty that exists in other countries, but we have abject poverty in our communities. Young children are being brought up in a climate of fear. We hear various stories in that regard. We must consider how people are being treated by society and what policies are needed. Such communities formed 3% to 4% of society 25 years ago but they have now grown to 15% and their number is increasing. Major social policy initiatives were taken by various Governments of all hues since Independence. I refer to housing and free education, among others. We must examine the development of policies to deal with the misuse of drugs but we must also focus on those areas where drug usage is highest and where people's health is a lot poorer than the average. Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for your indulgence. I will give the remaining few minutes to my colleague, Deputy Eugene Murphy.

I will be brief. I was present in the House for some time this evening and I was struck by the overall agreement in the House about the significant difficulty we have. We must try to solve the issue together. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is aware for a long time of the serious problems that exist in Dublin but they also exist in other parts of the country. It is extremely important that we all act together in that regard.

I am conscious of the front-line staff who must deal with desperate drug situations. That is something on which we probably do not reflect enough. In addition, there are all the sad family situations that have developed around the country due to drug abuse, and all the heart-breaking scenarios that occur. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd mentioned children whose parents have got hooked on drugs or where there are difficulties and they go through a very challenging period. They must be looked after as they need to be helped.

Fianna Fáil is supporting the Bill. It is extremely important that it is at the top of the political agenda. Many good points were made in this evening's debate on all sides of the House. It has been said that there is a real focus on the issue now and that it will not be subject to political point scoring from any side. That is as it should be.

The main objective of the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill is to amend the Schedule to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 by adding to it a number of substances to help law enforcement authorities to deal more effectively with the illicit trade in those substances, which is a major problem around the country, not alone in the big urban areas but in many other parts of the country. The political system must come to terms with the issue and find a better way of dealing with it.

Reference has been made over and again to the Z drugs, which is a relatively new problem we must deal with as well.

Debate adjourned.