I wish to share some of my time with Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin.
Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)
That is agreed.
As I said last night before the debate on the Bill was adjourned, this Bill is long overdue and, hopefully, it will go some way towards tackling the terrible scourge of drug problems within our society. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with the devastating effects of the abuse of drugs. It does not only affect Dublin city or other major urban areas, but every corner of Ireland, including my constituency of Roscommon-Galway.
Problem drug use can have a seismic knock-on effect and it is not only the individual drug user who suffers. It also has a devastating impact on the drug user's family and wider society in terms of vandalism, violence and public order offences. We need to stop and think particularly of ordinary families, where a family member has unfortunately got hooked on drugs. I do not have to tell Members of this House the devastation that has taken place within families in recent times when things went wrong.
Drug use can sever family ties and cut through the very heart of the family, leaving children without fathers and mothers and seeing them taken into care and being thrown into the chaos of the system. Very often the vicious cycle of drug abuse continues on into the next generation. Communities, towns and villages throughout this country also find themselves under siege from the illicit sale of prescription drugs and the so-called Z-drugs which are highly addictive and in some cases can be fatal. There is also a growing crisis with polydrug use and with the abuse of a particularly strong synthetic form of cannabis that can create anxiety, depression and psychosis. It is important to point out that in an attempt to tackle problem drug use, it is vital that we also try to intervene at an early stage to get drug users, their families and those at risk of drug use the support they need. There should be more support for the regional drug and alcohol task forces. Unfortunately, it can be all too easy for former drug users to relapse and fall prey to their devastating addictions. Therefore, strong aftercare structures are vital. I would also like to see more intervention and drug awareness programmes being introduced in schools to children at a young age. In all of these situations, intervention at primary school level is very important. Also, the establishment of family support programmes for the children of drug users is very important in an attempt to break this vicious cycle. If that happened, perhaps we could give some glimmer of hope in what can be a dark, lonely and threatened reality of a life ruined by the chaos of drug addiction.
Another type of drug abuse that we probably do not discuss enough is the growing epidemic of alcohol abuse. The estimated cost of excessive alcohol consumption is €3.7 million a year due to health, crime, public order offences and other costs. I am sure Members would agree it is a staggering figure. I was very much alarmed at the findings of the recent survey from the Galway Healthy Cities Alcohol Forum of 500 adults which found that 55% of those surveyed in Galway city were hazardous drinkers.
The survey also found that one in four of those surveyed in Galway city has experienced one or more harms as a result of someone else's drinking, while 74% were in favour of a ban on alcohol advertising, particularly to young people. Some 62% agree there should be a minimum price below which alcohol cannot be sold. With regard to drug abuse involving alcohol, what is done to families is terrible to witness, yet so many families suffer.
I welcomed the Bill and the Minister of State's contribution last night. This side of the House will be supporting the Bill.
This is my first opportunity to wish the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, well. She has a tough task ahead of her. I do not need to tell anyone present or anyone listening that problem drug use continues to be one of the most significant challenges facing our country. It has been thus for a long time. Unfortunately, it has not got any better. Problem drug use undermines the potential of the person involved, devastating the lives of families and causing huge problems for local communities, villages, towns and cities. The delay in this legislation was only adding to the growing crisis not only in our inner city areas but throughout the Twenty-six Counties.
Some people who try drugs are thrill-seekers and some are just curious. Some try drugs because their friends use them or because they want to be perceived as cool. Even more likely to abuse drugs and at risk of falling into addiction are people who are suffering emotionally and who use a drug to cope with the day-to-day difficulties of life.
I recently spent an evening with Mr. Aubrey McCarthy of Tiglin in inner-city Dublin where a group of volunteers from the organisation, many of whom are former addicts, go out every night to support drug addicts, particularly those who are homeless owing to drug addiction, and help them to go to addiction centres to try to restart their lives. Tiglin, Cuan Mhuire in Athy and Coolmine do absolutely excellent work in this area and need to be commended.
It is not all about the hard drugs, however; it is also about the soft drugs. There are so many people who try to self-medicate out of loneliness, low self-esteem, unhappy relationships, stress and many other types of problems. Some drug misusers suffer from a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. We all know drug use does not solve any of these problems and can easily make them worse or create new ones. What the short-term escape drugs provide can be so attractive that the dangerous consequences of misuse can seem unimportant. Communities under pressure are giving very strong signals that they are under siege from these so-called Z drugs and tablets.
Every day in the media, we hear about the devastating effects drug abuse and misuse have on our communities. It is not just a problem for the big urban communities. The epidemic of drug addiction is far reaching and is hitting hard some rural communities in my county, County Kildare. Many voluntary organisations are working to stem the tide but the failure to give sufficient resources to gardaí in Kildare continues to hamper any effort to clamp down on illegal drug use and supply. The absence of any community gardaí probably facilitates the use of drugs among young people. Some of the suppliers are as young as 15, which is absolutely shocking.
Fianna Fáil wants to give the Garda the powers needed to arrest people who are selling prescription drugs on our streets. Support for this Bill is part of the multifaceted approach we have called for to tackle gangland crime. However, this must go hand in hand with having sufficient numbers of gardaí on the streets to make arrests. I have shared with this House on a number of occasions the shocking ratio of gardaí to members of the civilian population in County Kildare. It is the lowest in the country. While I always welcome revised and improved legislation to combat drug abuse, the supply of drugs on the street and its relation to gangland crime, I believe it will be but a paper exercise if it cannot be implemented due to a shortage of manpower.
We simply must give the Garda the power it requires to arrest those who are distributing tablets and Z drugs right across the country. These powers do not exist 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 which is damaging young people, their families and communities.
It is important to point out to the House and the Minister of State that there has been a substantial cut to the number of gardaí working to prevent and investigate drug crime. The figures released last year show the number of gardaí assigned to divisions of Garda drug units has been slashed from 359 in 2011 to 257 in 2015, representing a cut of 28%. Of course, there is a close link between illegal drug use and the incidence of serious crime. Addictive behaviour is very complex. We cannot legislate for it but we can absolutely legislate for the abuse, and it is not a day too soon.
I wish the Minister of State the best of luck in her new position.
So-called legal highs are playing havoc in my constituency, Cavan-Monaghan, to the same extent that they are nationally, and they are causing untold damage to families. The families of the young people who have consumed the drugs know only too well the destruction these substances have caused. In my own area, for instance, the difficulty with the policing of these substances is coupled with the unique problems the Border poses and the availability of these substances in the North.
These so-called legal highs are so hard to police because one day they are called “Clockwork Orange” and the next they are called “N-bomb”. It is very difficult when the substances have varying and ever-changing names and compositions. This is making it very difficult to prosecute. The drugs are quickly made and easily disposable. When a ban is placed on a particular drug, manufacturers are able to replace it quickly with another substance that is similar in effect but different in its chemical make-up, thus making it technically legal.
To make the detection of drugs even more difficult in my constituency we have lost our dedicated drugs unit in recent years. Members of the general force are working hard to make up for this loss and combat the issue of drugs in our area. Although they have had some success, is it feasible to have members of the general force dealing with this growing epidemic? I am calling for the reinstatement of the dedicated drugs unit in Cavan-Monaghan. The drug detection rate is down in the Garda division of Cavan-Monaghan and we believe we are entering a new era of drug dealing. Dealers and users are becoming more discreet and secretive, with detections falling as a result.
The Garda has said the drugs scene is forever changing. Legal highs are available in our schools and people are ordering drugs from their homes as if they were takeaways, making it harder to police. Local people are saying it is time to change the legislation to deal with the issue and the hurt being caused by these substances. Lives have already been lost and destruction has been caused among so many families and communities due to the legal loopholes associated with these substances. In 2014, over 200 people turned up for a public meeting in Monaghan to resolve the issue of legal highs. That meeting was prompted following the tragic death of a young local man.
We must equip the Garda with the tools it needs to combat the scourge of legal highs across the country, particularly in my constituency and the whole Border region. I hope this amendment to existing legislation moves swiftly through the Houses, closes the door for dealers of these so-called legal highs, aids the Garda in tackling the issue, and eases the concerns of our constituents.
Even in boom times, successive Governments have not had enough resources to ensure we can tackle the blight that is drug abuse.
My home town of Limerick city, for instance, has no local drugs task force. We have no detoxification centre, yet we clearly have a worsening drugs problem. Limerick, like the rest of the country, needs detox spaces, properly resourced drug treatment services and an end to policies that reproduce deprivation and socioeconomic exclusion in communities. This legislation will do nothing to address this fundamental issue or to stem the increase in drug use. In Limerick, drugs are still a huge factor in the city's informal economy, and criminal elements continue to make huge profits while destroying communities and trading in misery.
It is high time to expand the Criminal Assets Bureau and for the Government to amend the Proceeds of Crime Act to ensure that money seized by the bureau goes back into the communities affected by drugs. If the Government had the political will to fund organisations throughout the State, it could divert funds to local drugs task force projects. The mid-west regional drug and alcohol forum, of which I am a member, has taken cuts of more than 50% since 2008. These cuts have impacted severely on the delivery of vital services which are urgently needed across the region and especially in Limerick city. This Bill will do nothing to assist drug-ravaged communities. If the Minister of State had a bit of imagination, she could redirect money seized from criminals to fund directly organisations delivering vital services in the field. That would be an important step in the battle against drug crime.
We can bury our heads in the sand and pretend in the face of research proving otherwise that criminalising disadvantaged people will help to solve this very human problem, but it will not. Children in their very early teens and even younger are becoming addicted to antidepressants like Xanax and other prescription drugs. I know first-hand the effect that abuse of Xanax and other prescription tablets has on young people and I can only describe it as the worst type of addiction to get off. Drug and alcohol councillors have noted that it can take anything up to three years for some of these teenagers to come off this type of addiction properly. They are buying prescription-type drugs online which are not from the most credible sources. In particular, Xanax is a drug used to treat depression but they are mixing it with drink to get high and it is certainly not meant for that.
One of my constituents is a young man by the name of Conor. He is 24 years of age and a former addict from Limerick city. He described the use of prescription drugs by young people as an epidemic that has broken out in recent years. The extent of the problem is evident from the large number of empty Xanax tablet packets that can be seen discarded on streets and in housing estates across the city. Conor went on to say that children as young as ten, 11 and 12 years of age are taking packets and packets of Xanax and that primary school children are taking them regularly. The problem is that these tablets are often sourced online and, because of this, there are credibility issues around their ingredients. Most of them are not manufactured properly and God only knows what is in them. Youngsters are sourcing tablets for a quick and easy hit. Conor was addicted to these tablets. He is on daily medication because of the seizures he has been left with as a result of drug abuse. Conor told me, "I just don't want children growing up and getting into the same situation as I did and I am only 24 years of age."
Conor hopes there will be a greater awareness in 2016 of the need to try and combat the use of what he describes as the new heroin in the city. The Bill, however, shows no signs of awareness or progressive thinking on the part of the Government on this issue. Criminalising young people who, more often than not, are already disadvantaged is a lazy and bankrupt response to what is an exceptionally serious issue. It is a very middle class response to what is perceived to be an issue which concerns only working class communities. The legislation will not work as it offers nothing to address the root causes of this problem, which are disadvantage, marginalisation and the political indifference of the middle classes.
Measaim nach leor an Bille rí-thábhachtach seo. Ba chóir dúinn a lán eile a dhéanamh i bhfad níos tapúla ná mar atá déanta againn go dtí seo. Ní dhéanfaidh an reachtaíocht seo puinn difríochta don fhadhb mhór mhillteanach atá againn inár sochaí faoi láthair. Ní mór dúinn díriú isteach ar bhealach eile.
I have been involved for many decades at this stage in the anti-drugs movements in this city. Nobody can accuse me of being soft on drugs and on drug dealers in particular. Over the years, some might say that I have matured, but that is not it. I came to the realisation that many of those who take and are addicted to drugs are young people who have many other issues. Whereas communities might have taken a simplistic approach to drug dealers in the early 1980s, they soon became aware that those dealers were of their communities in many cases and were often their own sons and daughters. That is a difficult realisation for any parent. How does one address it? How does one address a young man or a young girl who is selling poison to feed his or her own habit?
For years, we were promised that the Criminal Assets Bureau was going to address the big drug dealers, or barons as they were presented to us in this city in particular and throughout the country. I remember the debate on the original CAB legislation, which represented a major change to the legal system in moving the onus away from the legal system onto the person who had accumulated wealth. There were suspicions as to whether it would work and whether it was a step too far. In the communities I represent and have lived in since, there has been major concern about what happens to the confiscated money and assets. At the very least, the demand originally was that the assets seized would be applied to help young people addicted to drugs through the provision of services to prevent them from ending up in addiction, whether physical or mental, to drugs. CAB was supposed at all times to be doing wonderful things. It managed to confiscate quite a lot. However, it is 20 or 25 years since CAB was established and it is strange to see that there are more drug barons than ever now and more wealth concentrated among those who deal in illegal drugs.
This is not just aimed at Government. As a society, we need to figure out how best to tackle the scourge of drugs. It is not just heroin and cocaine but ecstasy and prescription drugs, which is something the Bill before us addresses. Prescription drugs are ending up on the street. A few years ago, my father-in-law died and I took to the pharmacy two full shopping bags of prescription drugs which he had never taken. Every time he went to get one part of his prescription filled, the whole plethora of drugs he was supposed to be on were handed to him. That is true of many people. We have a major problem in terms of prescription drugs as well as with the illegal ones. That has not been addressed.
It is not something new and which is only just emerging. I remember in the early 1990s that this was one of the concerns of the same communities which were also talking about heroin. They were talking about the large number of people who were addicted to prescription drugs. Some doctors were prescribing willy-nilly. People were prescribed whatever they wanted. I acknowledge that there were moves by the Irish Medical Council to address that, but it is obvious that not enough was done if we are now introducing a Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill to make illegal the possession of certain prescription drugs which are not for personal use.
These should not be getting to people in the first place. Obviously, the Internet has emerged in the meantime. I am not blind to that or to the significant challenge it poses to our Customs and Excise. I have argued that Customs and Excise needs to be resourced more to tackle not just this aspect of illegal drugs but quite a lot of other contraband that comes through. If that means more X-ray machines to scan trucks and cars in every port in the country, it would be money well spent.
Earlier this week, I presented a report to the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly specifically on visa systems. One of its recommendations was that smaller ports be properly resourced. We met An Garda Síochána and immigration officials last week in Rosslare, while Baroness Harris, from the British side, met the equivalent officials in Fishguard. The authorities were happy with the co-operation that takes place, but there was concern about the lack of resources. I know we can scan every single car and truck and every item of post that comes into the country but it still would not address the problem. However, it would show that we are taking this issue seriously.
The scale of the problem with the drugs we are trying to ban with this legislation is significant among young people in Dublin and major urban centres. It is now spreading to rural areas. Banning them is not enough, however. It does not deal with the issue of residual chemicals left in young people's bodies, the psychological effect that some of these drugs will have on young people for years to come, or the chaos these drugs cause in accident and emergency departments week in and week out. I have seen it myself - doctors trying to deal with the effects of these drugs without knowing what they are, how to cope with them or how to counteract them. That in itself is a drain on our health service. If we invest properly in resources in schools, diverting young people away from illegal drugs in the first instance, or any legal drug such as alcohol, tobacco or prescription drugs, at least our health service may save some money. Whatever money is saved could be invested in the capture of more of the products poisoning our young people.
I remember dealing with Mary Harney as Minister for Health when head shops abounded the country. It was recognised, however, that whatever legislation was introduced, we would still be playing catch-up the whole time. This legislation might be passed in the morning. However, there are drugs emerging that are not captured by the Bill’s provisions and will bypass them. Often, we are reflecting developments in Europe and Britain and playing catch-up. Sometimes we are head of the rest of them. The legislation dealing with head shops was examined by many other countries dealing with that problem. It took several years before the British system caught up with our provisions for dealing with head shops. While we can be ahead of the curve in this regard, at the end of the day we are not ahead of the money being put by drug barons into creating new drugs and some unscrupulous industries that discover these substances as by-products which they then sell on. In the past, pseudoephedrine was removed from many prescription medicines because it could be used in the manufacture of other drugs. Do we now start banning all sorts of chemicals that can be mixed to make other drugs? Do we have to introduce legislation when we identify five or six products that need to be proscribed? Is there another way in which all chemical components could be licensed before they can be used? I am not an expert in this. However, rather than just passing this legislation, we should look at how we could prevent - it might have to be on a European or world level - the emergence of new chemical products that affect young people with horrible consequences for them, their families and society around them.
I am not arguing for the legalisation of drugs. I am arguing, however, that a penal regime is not the best policy for dealing with young people caught with drugs. There should be consequences, but should they prevent people from moving on to a career, enjoying holidays abroad or having a family? Often, young people do not take the consequences into account when they are enjoying themselves. It is not often on purpose that young people take various products that end up causing an addiction.
Some companies in Ireland produce the prescription medicines which are listed in this Bill. They should be asked if they can take greater steps to ensure their products do not filter out onto the open market for sale. There are certain areas in Dublin city where it does not matter what type of drug one wants, as it can be obtained. It is a sad day when we see open drug dealing on our streets, which for a long time had disappeared into the background. In some parts of Dublin, it is like going into a supermarket for drugs. Whatever one wants, one will find. That is not the way it should be. During the head shop era, there were queues of young people outside them. It seems to be cropping up again and needs to be tackled by An Garda Síochána and Dublin City Council. We also need to ensure resources are given to hospitals, to schools and to those investigating emerging trends in drugs. We need to catch the trend before it arrives here and take whatever steps are required to prevent a drug from gaining any type of a foothold. If we know there is a drug starting to emerge in Europe or in the world, then we should take action before it emerges as a drug of choice among young people here and prevent it from even getting onto the streets in the first place.
I hope this Bill is not the only response to this problem. I know the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality is examining the option of a mini Criminal Assets Bureau. There is no need to change the legislation to deal with that. The legislation that created the Criminal Assets Bureau in the first place gave it enough power to go after those flaunting the wealth they got from drugs, which in turn attracted more young people to a life of crime and drug dealing. I welcome the Bill, but it is not the answer at this stage.
I call on Deputy Bríd Smith, who is sharing time with Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett.
I am puzzled by the framework this legislation is being presented in. The Bill is coming from the Department of Health, and one would have assumed that, therefore, the discussion would be framed as a health issue, yet the aim behind it, allegedly, is to help the Garda in dealing with gangland crime and the recent terrible scenes in our city. The Minister of State emphasised several times that these measures are being sought by the Garda, but I note the absence from the briefing of those who deal with the health effects of the misuse of drugs. We are told that the Garda regards this Bill criminalising drug users as an important weapon in their fight but we are not told how. It is illegal to sell prescription drugs, and I note that this year several benzos were moved from Schedule 4 to Schedule 1 under the Misuse of Drugs Act. As heroin is still in Schedule 2, are we to deduce that heroin is now less damaging to health than benzos or Z-drugs, and that if people are going to take drugs they are better off taking heroin than Valium or zopiclone? I fear that making it illegal to possess these drugs will actually give rise to an increase in the use of other drugs such as heroin. In the United States, a recent ban on OxyContin fuelled a major epidemic in heroin use because drug users found heroin cheaper, easier and more accessible than the prescription opiates. It will not do anything to stop the gangland killing and it certainly will not do anything to hurt the drug barons’ pockets. It will only harm those in need of health supports, who need detox beds and not the sort of response we are providing for here.
I want to take the unusual step of reading a speech that was made in the Seanad by Senator Lynn Ruane. I know Lynn going right back and the Minister of State probably knew her too when she worked in the drugs projects in Bluebell. She has huge experience of dealing with the victims of drugs. She said in the Seanad:
The relentless warfare on drugs has failed. It failed long ago. It fails every time an addict dies from the effects of an unknown substance. It fails every time a parent has to pay the drug debt of a child. It fails every time we imprison an addict for possession and it fails every time we introduce legislation to further criminalise the addict. The addict has become collateral damage in the State's fight to dismantle the drugs trade. Legislation that criminalises possession reinforces the stigma associated with addiction. . . . I have had dozens of conversations in recent weeks with people who both sell and use substances. I refer to two of the contributions which I raise in order to communicate the reality of the amendments and the people they affect. A 34 year old woman from Tallaght said:
Even after I was raped, imprisoned, battered, pimped and hospitalised I have been refused treatments for benzo addiction. Apparently I am not ready, or so some stranger likes to decide. I sell benzos, not a huge amount, just enough to fund my own use and to do some food shopping. I often have boxes of benzos in my possession.
A young 17 year old male from Crumlin said:
My brother and I started taking tablets after weekend sessions. We used to rob my Mam's zimos when we were children and I deliver benzos for my cousin so I can get some for myself.
He would like to join the Army some day but he cannot get off drugs. Both of these use this type of drug. That young boy will never make it to the Army and the woman from Tallaght risks being imprisoned again and again if treatment for her benzo addiction does not become the priority. Currently, she is being treated like a criminal.
This Bill aims to criminalise small-time drug users and will do nothing to halt the use of drugs or to help those who are addicted. Study after study, report after report and past experience teach us that if we are serious about this issue we need to study the root causes of addiction and have proper treatment for those already afflicted. We need to remind ourselves of the discussions in the north inner city with the community activists and the full-time community workers around the time of the killings there, when they described the alienation and disaffection of young people who had no hope for the future, who felt discarded by society and felt they would never attain dignity, and did not have proper jobs. I want to throw into the discourse the massive cuts to drugs, community and youth projects and family intervention in communities such as these. They have been outrageous. The Minister of State once described this as picking the low-hanging fruit. That is exactly what the last Government went after when it recouped the debt for the European bank bailout. Instead of looking after communities and treating drug misuse as a health issue, this Bill sets out in the opposite direction. While it is under the remit of the Department of Health, the arguments relied on by the Minister of State are not based on health or scientific studies but instead on requests from the Garda and requests and arguments that rely on security rather than drug addiction in the first instance as a health and social issue.
The international experience from Portugal to South America shows that we need to move in the opposite direction - from a crime-oriented approach to a health-oriented approach. This Bill is failing utterly to deal with drug misuse as a health issue. The criminalisation of more prescription drugs has no basis in health care. The focus should be on encouraging engagement with services, if they are there. At the moment they are totally inadequate. We do not have enough detox beds and I have just mentioned the massive cuts to family intervention projects, community drug projects and so on. Many of those who use benzos on the street cannot access benzo addiction treatment. This will do nothing to help matters. All it will do is push people into using other harmful drugs such as heroin, and that will push the dealers into upping the price of heroin and selling more of it on the streets.
A government that will not ban advertising for alcohol at sports events such as the Heineken Cup cannot claim to be tough on drugs. All the statistics from the Department of Health show us that alcohol abuse or misuse is much more taxing to health services and results in much more long-term bed occupancy and many more deaths than drug misuse. It also accounts for much more social and family-related problems such as domestic violence. Once again the introduction of injection rooms has been put a year down the road. The previous Minister of State with responsibility for the drugs strategy attempted to bring this in. We need it urgently.
I do not know if it would be the Minister of State’s genre, but "The Wire" was an excellent projection of the gangland and drug addiction scene in Baltimore in America. It showed very clearly that every attempt to criminalise drugs further gives the prosecution service, the Ministers involved and particularly the police service better statistics in the form of arrests and prosecutions. It will give the Minister of State better arguments to make on a TV debate or if she goes to the polls again, to say the Government is doing wonderful things about drugs because the statistics show more people are being arrested and being put in prison. That is exactly what will happen: more resources will be taken up in choking our courts with petty small-time dealers and choking the Prison Service with people who should be in treatment rather than being locked up. It will not stop gangland killings. The gangs will just change their product from one thing to another and intensify their sales. It will not stop the tragedies that visit countless families. We are opposed to this Bill. It will do nothing but harm the cause of improving outcomes for our communities, for drug users and their families. It will reinforce the cycle of criminality and push users into the laps of the very gangs that this Bill allegedly attempts to undermine.
This is a misguided, flawed Bill. It is more of the same failed policy approach that has brought us to the fairly sorry pass we are now at.
In a way, it is also the worst sort of opportunism in that it plays politics with deadly serious issues such as drug addiction and gangland crime. The bizarre response to that can only really be explained by knee-jerk political opportunism, combined with a complete failure to understand the flaws in the policies we have pursued to date when it comes to drugs, drug addiction and the associated problems.
The Bill criminalises the possession of certain prescription drugs and the synthetic cannabinoid, clockwork orange. As has already been stated, it is illegal to sell prescription drugs. Why are we now making it illegal to possess them? The Minister spelled out the situation. Following the escalation of the gangland conflict in the north inner city, he felt we had to push things forward and responded to a request from the Garda to take this measure. The Garda is now deciding health policy in response to a fairly awful gangland feud in the north inner city of Dublin, and a political response to that will now dictate policy. I would have thought that the Department of Health and people who are medical professionals should dictate health policy when it comes to the quality of drugs and where they should be scheduled. I would have thought that people who deal with the problems of addiction and young people falling into addiction are those to whom we should listen in terms of how we respond to this issue. Instead, the Garda is dictating health policy. That is a bad start, and things are moving in precisely the opposite direction than that in which we need to go.
We have had the law-and-order approach forever, and it has not worked. It never will work. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said we have to think about how we can stop these substances getting onto the streets. Let me tell the House the answer to that question. One cannot do so and one never ever will. Unless one faces that fact, one is on a hiding to nothing. We have to face the reality of the misuse and existence of drugs, learn how to regulate them and, critically, discourage people from getting involved in their misuse, as well as supporting those who become victims of their misuse. That is the only chance we have of dealing with the devastating consequences of the misuse of drugs. Trying to cut the problem off at the supply level or criminalising people on the grounds of drug possession is an utter waste of time. We would want to abandon this approach because, as prohibition has always done, it will force more people into being stigmatised as criminal criminals and will drive them further into the criminal underworld. One would think we would have learned that from the impact of prohibition in the United States when that jurisdiction tried to ban alcohol. That one measure produced the nightmare that is the Italian Mafia and America has been dealing with the consequences ever since.
We are doing the same in our approach to drugs. We are moving further in the wrong direction. The current approach has not worked with other illegal drugs, and we want to take the same approach to prescription drugs. It is a completely crazy move. We need to start recognising that the misuse of drugs is a health and societal issue, and has to be dealt with as such. We might then have some chance of beginning to grapple with the problem and its consequences.
The most important action we can take in this regard is in the area of prevention. It is an area where the very Department that has produced this Bill, prompted by the Garda, is failing to listen to the people who are doing prevention work. Instead, the Department is cutting funding. I again raise a matter to which I referred in the leaders' debate during the general election. I raised it several times, and I will keep doing so and campaigning on it until we finally get action. The same is happening all over the country.
In my area funding for a project, the Oasis project, has been cut by the HSE, which is linked to the Minister of State's Department. An oasis is a place in the desert where one gets water. It is a lifeline, which is what the Oasis project was, in one of the most disadvantaged areas in my constituency, Monkstown Farm. It cost €40,000 a year and two people were employed. They worked far more than they were paid for with vulnerable teenagers in the Monkstown Farm area. They engaged them with services and provided them with positive alternatives outlets for the energy and activities that teenagers have. If the service had not been available, teenagers might have been led into drugs. It provided other supports when teenagers got into trouble of various kinds and enabled them to engage with services. Every mother, father and resident in the area said it was a brilliant service. The two people who provided the service, one a parent and another who had been a victim of some of the very problems young people face today, such as abuse and so on, provided a brilliant service for which they should have been paid three or four times the amount they received. They did that work because they cared about young people and recognised the pitfalls and dangers they face. The service really worked.
The HSE cut the project's funding and it is now gone. I and, more importantly, the residents of the area will tell the Minister of State that many of the children who engaged with the service over 14 years will now end up in trouble, in prison, addicted to drugs or involved in gangland crime. That is guaranteed. Some teenagers who were not in trouble previously have started to get into trouble since the service was cut. I have raised the issue with the Minister many times. This situation can be replicated in disadvantaged communities across the country, where crazy decisions were taken on high by people who do not have the foggiest notion what is going on with young people and disadvantaged communities. They do things that cause real damage and guarantee that people will be pushed into drugs, crime and all the rest, and then they come out with rubbish like this Bill.
I cannot express my anger more directly. The Bill is a misguided repetition of all the failed policies of the past. We need to start listening to young people, those who work with them and those living in disadvantaged communities.
Some young people asked me what we in the Dáil do and whether we have any idea what is going on. They asked me to use some street language. When children are trying to make a positive statement on the street they do a thing called a "dab". I do not know whether the Minister of State knows what that is. I do not know what it means, but we need to learn what it means, what young people are talking about, what matters to them and what they consider positive activity. We need to support, resource and fund them instead of introducing misguided nonsense like this Bill.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution today on this important legislation which will amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 by adding new substances to the controlled list, make provision for a number of related matters such as the revocation of some statutory instruments, the transferring of functions on granting licences to the Health Products Regulatory Authority from the Minister for Health and adding the definitions of "registered nurse" and "registered midwife" to those allowed to administer medical prescriptions.
The speedy progression of the Bill through the Houses is part of the Government's attempt to take some action following the resurgence of gangland crime on the streets of Dublin, on which we had a few debates since the general election. The Bill was originally scheduled for the autumn term and was also intended to provide for the establishment of supervised injection centres, but that is no longer the case, which is regrettable. I understand the centres will be provided for in a subsequent misuse of drugs (amendment) Bill later in the term. This Bill is expected by the Government to aid An Garda Síochána in its law enforcement duties regarding the possession of drugs and illicit substances. The Minister of State has indicated that the Garda specifically requested those powers as part of the fight against gangland activity. I accept the sincere arguments and points of view that have been expressed by colleagues on decriminalisation. The suggestions in that regard are worthy of very deep thought and the strongest consideration of this House at the next Stage of the Bill.
Section 6, Parts 1 and 2, sets out the Schedule listing substances to be added to Paragraph 1A and 1B of the Schedule to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. The types of substances to be added include Z drugs, Clockwork Orange and other substances which have been identified as dangerous under the EU Council Decision 2005/387/JHA. Some of the listed substances such as zopiclone may be in the possession of legitimate users with a prescription and such regulations will be required to allow such possession.
Given that there was another shooting in broad daylight last week we can agree that tackling gangland activity and crime is a priority for the Government and the law enforcement agencies. I recently received a reply to a parliamentary question I raised regarding An Garda Síochána's Operation Thistle, which was set up in direct response to the escalation in gang violence in Dublin earlier this year. It commenced on 19 February 2016 and as of the end of May 2016, €1,794,100 worth of drugs had been seized, 12 persons were arrested on suspicion "relating to the sale and supply of drugs, forged documents and breach of bail conditions" and "9 persons have been charged with 40 separate offences".
The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, represents a Dublin constituency, as I do, and she is aware of the horrendous impact of the godfathers of drug-fuelled crime on communities and the necessity to go after them and to disrupt and end their business, and to ensure that they will be brought to account for what they have done to our city and the country. It is regrettable that the Minister of State's colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, has been slow to liaise with our EU colleagues in countries such as Spain and Holland and to utilise the European arrest warrant and work with Europol in order to ensure that, literally, the long arm of the State can reach the alleged perpetrators of those incredible and outrageous assassinations on the streets of the city. I again urge the Minister of State to be prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to progress the situation and to ensure that each and every one of the criminals who committed those horrendous crimes are brought to account, especially the directors of the criminality.
While I welcome aspects of the intention of the Bill and certain actions being taken by the Government in an attempt to support An Garda Síochána, the Bill needs to be more than just a knee-jerk reaction that will not make any real impact on the growing terror on the streets carried out by the gangs who have no regard for anyone's life. Some colleagues have been critical of the Bill. It is not surprising that we have seen a resurgence in such crimes given the cutbacks of the austerity years. The negative impacts of the cutbacks are now being felt most acutely by communities in constituencies such as mine and that of the Minister of State, that are among the most deprived and where people have the lowest income.
In May 2015, I asked the then Minister of State with responsibility for drugs, now Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, for information on the cuts in funding to local drugs and alcohol task forces and the regional drugs and alcohol task forces from 2011 to 2015. They are bodies the Minister of State and I have strongly supported over the years. Local drugs task force funding across Dublin reduced from €20.38 million in 2011 to €18.947 million in 2015 and the percentage reduction in 2011 was 2.51%, another 1.86% in 2012, 3.52% in 2013 and 1.82% in 2014. As the Minister of State is aware from her experience in her constituency, we just cannot afford those kind of cuts given the number of positive projects that needed additional funding rather than having to constantly cope with reduced resources. Regional task force funding reduced from just under €10 million in 2011 down to well under €9 million in 2015.
At the end of December 2015, I also requested information from the Minister for Health on the number of persons who availed of public addiction services. The national drug treatment reporting system, NDTRS, data available at the time for 2014 showed that approximately "16,500 cases entered drug or alcohol treatment". Of those, 4.1% were categorised as having received detoxification and a further 1.4% benzodiazepine detoxification. A total of 25% of all cases were treated in inpatient facilities.
Figures provided in the reply to the parliamentary question also stated that at the end of June 2015, "there were 249 people nationally on a waiting list in thirty eight HSE Clinics with a mean waiting time of 1.2 months". That is a considerable waiting time for people who are trying to get assistance with detoxification.
In the previous two Dáileanna we engaged in battles to try to increase the number of beds for that purpose. On 23 June 2016, I received a reply to a parliamentary question I asked about the number of inpatient detox beds available. The HSE reply stated that the number of beds available, including private provision are "787 residential beds, comprising 23 inpatient unit detoxification beds, 117 community-based residential detoxification beds, 4 adolescent residential detoxification beds, 625 residential rehabilitation beds and 18 adolescent residential rehabilitation beds". The reply also stated, "the HSE is submitting a business case for additional treatment episodes in the estimates process for 2017". That will be the challenge for the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, and her colleagues when the final shape of the budget is decided in late August and early September. Given the tens of thousands accessing treatment according to the NDTRS there is a clear need for extra resources.
Other colleagues referred to the amendments submitted by Senators Lynn Ruane and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin to the Bill when it was before the Seanad recently providing for non-prosecution for possession for personal use. The context is that the Government wishes to bring to an end the criminal activity of major drug dealers. The newly-appointed Minister of State with responsibility for equality, migration and integration, Deputy David Stanton, has also called for the decriminalisation of drugs and advocated that we would follow Portugal's system of non-prosecution for small amounts of drugs in possession for personal use. I saw the Minister of State recently on a "Prime Time" programme. He has been in the Dáil as long as I have and he is one of the most thoughtful and hard-working Members, and finally he has been appointed as Minister of State. When he was Chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence an intensive study was carried out of the situation in Portugal. The committee visited Portugal and looked at the impact of the changes introduced there. They found that instead of tying up the courts service in Portugal, persons are instead directed to dissuasion centres to support them to discontinue their drug use.
Senator Ruane also recently criticised the Bill as "retrograde and regressive" and stated that it does not target the high-level dealers.
The Senator's progressive amendments were defeated, but I would hope to see the Minister of State with responsibility for communities and the national drugs strategy consider a similar amendment going forward based on the work of the committee chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, in the Thirty-first Dáil. I would like to see whether the Minister of State and Deputy Stanton could bring to the House the data and facts of how the Portuguese situation has developed.
We have read a lot about the election of the previous President in Uruguay. It was part of his portfolio to try to reduce serious criminality in Montevideo and in that country's social life. There are also interesting developments in some of the American states, such as Colorado and Washington. There are data coming forward around young people and drugs in all those jurisdictions. They seem to be very positive data about fewer young people being affected, for example, in the state of Colorado. All that deserves urgent study and consideration by the Government.
I note that the number of gardaí attached to the divisional drugs unit in the Dublin metropolitan region was 113 in 2013, 106 in 2014 and 115 in 2015. The Coolock district, in my own constituency, alone seized drugs valued at more than €3 million in 2014. Statistics from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, on the number of controlled drug offences in which the suspected offenders are on bail show a significant jump in the number of offences year on year from 2003 to 2008. In 2009, the number started to reduce to 2,353. In 2010, it was lower still at 2,154 and it was down to 1,565 by 2013. However, the increased trend has returned, with the number of recorded controlled drug offences in which the suspected offender was on bail standing at 1,883 in 2014 and 1,940 in 2015. It shows that the so-called war on drugs is far from over and that the prevalence of drugs in prisons must also be addressed. It shows the need for significant new thinking and new responses to try to end this scourge on communities.
At the recent launch at the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice of its report entitled Developing Inside: Transforming Prison for Young Adults, Fr. Peter McVerry, the long-standing and deeply respected advocate for marginalised groups, spoke on the subject of drugs in prison. Fr. McVerry said that it is becoming more evident that heroin is the older prisoner's drug of choice and that the misuse of tablets has become much more popular. This, of course, is having a considerable impact on the management of prisoners misusing this type of drug as they are much more volatile, aggressive and unpredictable than the previous experience of prisoners who misused opiates and displayed more, as it were, co-operative behaviours. I welcome the Irish Prison Service's implementation of incentivised regimes and integrated sentence management in which those who become drug free in prison and display positive behaviour are moved to enhanced regimes. However, this issue again goes back to the resources we have to address this problem, as Mountjoy Prison has just nine places on the drug-free programme in its medical unit.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, EMCDDA, noted that in Ireland in 2014, of the 9,523 persons who accessed treatment, 50% did so for opiate addiction, 28% for cannabis and 9% for cocaine. The average age of those entering treatment was 30 years. Males made up 73% of the clients and just 27% were females. Europol also recently published its EU drugs market report for 2016 which found that Irish teenagers and young adults are the biggest users of illegal psychoactive drugs in the EU. The Minister of State probably saw that report as well. Ireland had a 9% level of use among the age group of 15 to 24 year olds who took part in the survey. That is a very worrying statistic. France and Spain, for example, both had 8% and Slovenia had 7%.
I welcome the efforts which have taken place so far to try to address increased gangland activity. We must insist that that outrageous criminal behaviour is ended in order that the streets of our capital are safe for residents and visitors. Serious action will have to be taken to target the high-level dealers who are wreaking havoc on our streets and communities with no regard for life. Most important, a lesson must be learnt from the imposition of the austerity cuts that there are repercussions from such decisions and the longer-term cost can far outweigh the initial Exchequer savings at the time.
It is interesting that yesterday the four nations that are still in the UK were considering the impact of mistaken policy by officials in the very serious matter of the Iraq war. The concern was that there was not accountability. It is likewise for what happened to our country from 2006 to 2009 in both the regime that existed up to 2009, which led our country into an economic crash, and the subsequent very vicious austerity, which was implemented by Governments in the previous two Dáileanna. Again, there should be an accounting for that. We have seen the impact on the streets and in communities. It is a regression from the progress we were making initially. Much of that progress was in this area and in the subject matter of this Bill and was made by valiant community leaders, as we know, in the drugs task force and in all the community centres around our city and in other cities throughout the country.
I will start by mentioning to the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, that a suggestion I have been making for the last number of months seems to be gathering pace on the Opposition benches, which is welcome. That suggestion is for the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Health to begin an assessment of the Portuguese model which was the subject of a report of the committee upon which I served during the previous Dáil. I believe it was the 35th report of the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, and dealt with the Portuguese model. It was about harm reduction and a rehabilitative approach to possession of small amounts of illegal drugs.
It was an eye-opening experience for me. I had been very much against any sort of relaxation in the approach to drug policy. I would have gone in quite the opposite direction. I would have made it even firmer. However, the truth is in the results which that jurisdiction has experienced as a result of the removal of the criminal penalty for first-time offenders for possession of small quantities of drugs that are classified in a very prescriptive manner. Those individuals are diverted away from the criminal justice system and put into health, which is where they should be because it is an addiction. Targeting the end user or the small-time drug user is not really going to solve the problem. What is important is targeting the guys who are bringing it into the jurisdiction or selling it within the jurisdiction.
Notwithstanding that suggestion, which I know is one the Minister of State agrees with, I recognise that in the intervening period, Bills such as the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2016 must be introduced. I support that initiative. We know of the absence of legislation with regard to the classification of certain drugs which has led to members of An Garda Síochána apprehending individuals with, in certain cases, large quantities of such substances only to have to release them. Clearly, if we are providing An Garda Síochána and others with the tools to reduce the consumption of either illegal or illicit substances, that is a good thing. Therefore, this legislation has my full support, with the caveat that we begin the process as soon as we possibly can to look into the Portuguese example.
I believe there are benefits that will outweigh the current investment of funds in the courts system, jails, the mobilisation of An Garda Síochána, and even education programmes. If we divert more funding into the health side of things, we reduce the amount of time that is spent in the courts and the amount of time and money invested in the prison service in transporting prisoners to and from hearings and all the rest of it. There are benefits, therefore, in examining the Portuguese model. I do not expect, for instance, that we could simply pick it up and bring it over here, as it were, because that would not work.
That would be very welcome and it would free up resources in other Departments for us to tackle the people who are bringing in the illegal substances that legislation like this, and its precursor from the 1970s, were designed to tackle, albeit unsuccessfully.
While I rarely agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett, he is always an entertaining and articulate Member of Dáil Éireann when it comes to his contributions. He was absolutely right about prohibition in the United States and other such things. The war on drugs is a complete waste of time and resources because we are never going to win it. Whether it is those in the well-to-do suburbs of this city and other cities who are snorting cocaine as if it was the year 2000, or others - of course, I jest - the people spending most on drugs in this country are not those on the streets with needles; they are those in the leafy suburbs with a premium product. Those are the people we need to target, because the less lucrative the drugs trade becomes, the less likely it is that individual dealers will make a profit, which means they will hopefully move into other areas.
I will speak on the Bill. The legislation will ensure that prescription medicines that do not currently come under the scope of the misuse of drugs legislation are included under it. Such drugs will include benzodiazepine, phenazepam - I should have tried to pronounce this before I got up to speak - and other psychoactive substances known as Z-drugs. In line with both our EU and UN obligations, we must ensure that new psychoactive substances are controlled.
I would like to draw attention to a number of the substances which will be controlled under this legislation. Zopiclone, for instance, has been a factor in a number of deaths in recent years. It was involved in six poisoning deaths in 2007, but this increased to 51 by 2013. According to records from An Garda Síochána, 165 zopiclone seizures were reported in 2014. Another example is MT-45, which was found by an EU risk assessment in 2014 to have been associated with 28 deaths, while MDMB-CHMICA was reported to have been associated with 71 serious adverse events, including 29 deaths, across eight member states.
A piece of legislation that prevents one death is worthy of this House. Our EU counterparts, along with the HSE and the Department of Justice and Equality, have been able to assess this and provide the figures we were given earlier when the Minister introduced the Bill. Other examples were also cited during the course of this debate which warrant this legislation. Given the dangers associated with many of these drugs which will, as a result of this Bill, be brought under the misuse of drugs legislation, we must act with a particular focus on disrupting the activities of gangs dealing in drugs, ensuring they can no longer sow the seeds of discord on our streets and in our local communities. We must continue to support An Garda Síochána in doing this by providing it not only with the tools but also with the legislation to back up its activities.
I am pleased that the programme for Government is committed to delivering a health-led approach to tackling drug use. Although it is a single line in that programme, I know the basis upon which that line was included. As I mentioned earlier, it is the Portuguese model. While a criminal justice approach is necessary to tackle the activities of gangs and dealers who are ensuring the proliferation of drugs on our streets, it does not benefit individuals who are struggling with an addiction. As a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality during the last Dáil term - and I am pleased to have been reappointed in the current Dáil - I was involved in the analysis carried out by the committee of what we would deem to be the most effective manner of controlling drug use and limiting the societal damage that drugs cause in our communities. In Portugal, the levels of drug use 15 or 16 years ago were defined as serious. However, there has been a significant reduction since then, making Portugal a prime example of international best practice in tackling drugs in our communities. One of the main reasons for the reduction is the transition by Portuguese authorities from treating drug addiction as a criminal justice matter to treating it as a health issue.
We have a responsibility to examine how this approach may benefit our health service, assist those facing addiction and allow for the betterment of society for all our citizens. I understand that in the autumn a further misuse of drugs Bill will be brought before us in order to provide for the establishment of supervised injecting facilities for those who have chronic drug addictions. That was one small component of the committee's report. Unfortunately, it became the main focus rather than the substantive issue, which was the move from criminalisation and incarceration of drug users to health treatment. This, however, became the main focus in the six months before the general election, which was regrettable because it was not the main thrust of the Bill. There will be many benefits from the establishment of these facilities, not just in terms of providing those with chronic addictions with a safe, clean environment but also from the perspective of the health system, and I look forward to discussing that matter further later this year.
I will not go into the specific details of what I saw last night when I was getting the train home at about 8 o'clock. Other examples of needles littering our streets in certain parts of the city centre are already on the record of the Dáil. The DART slowed down just as we were approaching Abbey Street. I looked down and there were four middle-aged people, in their 40s, down a laneway with boxes and litter all around them. They were shooting up. This was around 8 o'clock in the evening and it was still bright outside. It was about four metres from a busy footpath on Abbey Street, not that far from the old Irish Life building. That is a main thoroughfare in Dublin city centre. I am sure that if Members of the House were to go down a few laneways in Dublin 1 or Dublin 2 they would find examples of drug use on our streets. Unfortunately, it is far more chronic in certain other areas. That is why I believe the measures the Government is to introduce in the autumn are worthwhile. We have had deaths as a result of intravenous drug use on our streets, as well as multiple such deaths off our streets. When persons are found in such a way in the city centre with over a million people living around them, society is worse off in terms of protecting citizens who really need our attention and assistance.
In tackling drug use on our streets, we must implement a comprehensive and integrated approach, which will support those facing personal addictions, showing them compassion and providing them with assistance rather than treating them as criminals. Of course, this must be complemented with a justice-focused approach to tackling gangs and drug dealers and preventing them from causing further proliferation of the misuse of drugs in our communities. I hope the Government will continue to work to achieve this and to improve society for all of us. I also hope the Government will listen to the recommendations made by the justice committee of the Thirty-first Dáil, particularly in regard to the potential benefits of implementing the Portuguese system in this State.
I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, who I know is a politician of great conviction and ability. Her experience in this field made her the automatic choice for the junior ministry in the Department of Justice and Equality. I wish her all the very best.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill.
I compliment the Taoiseach on the appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy of Deputy Catherine Byrne who, in terms of her background and being a Dublin Deputy, is ideally suited to the position. I have every confidence she will be effective in this role and I wish her well in that regard over the coming years. While the portfolio is associated with the Department of Health it is evident from the contributions of other speakers that the level of interaction required across a range of agencies and Departments in coming up with an effective response to the drugs issue is challenging. My only regret is that the Minister of State is not a super junior Minister sitting at the Cabinet table. Given the co-ordinating role required of her across so many Departments and agencies it is the next logical progression.
On the legislation, I acknowledge that the Minister for Health fast-tracked the introduction of this Bill which was to be part of wider legislation in terms of the misuse of drugs. This was done as a result of pressures following particular incidents in the north inner city. It is important the political system is seen to respond quickly and appropriately. I understand that further legislation on other issues in this area will be introduced later in the year. Fianna Fáil supports this legislation.
The issue of prescription drug abuse has been around for a long time. All of the reports, surveys and findings have indicated the harm that they are causing. I have spoken to people outside of here about the issue of prescription drugs. Some people are of the view that because prescription drugs are made to a particular standard and are certified they are not bad. However, when prescription drugs are taken with other drugs they can have a serious effect on the individual. The Health Research Board report 2015 data on drug misuse is shocking. In the decade 2004 to 2013 there were more than 6,000 deaths from drug poisoning. If that statistic was related to road fatalities, as a society, we would have a completely different attitude in terms of how we deal with it.
In 2013, the last year for which published data are available, there were 387 drug-related poisonings in this country. There were 679 drug-related deaths in 2013, of which 387 were as a result of drug poisoning. They are horrendous statistics. As a society we need to get our heads around this and we need to give this issue the priority, attention and urgency it deserves. According to the report, polydrug use was implicated in 60% of poisoning deaths; alcohol was implicated in 35% of poisoning deaths and methadone was implicated in 25% of poisoning deaths. There were 86 deaths in which heroin was implicated. In almost two thirds of poisoning deaths in 2013 polydrugs were involved. Death due to the use of polydrugs increased by 90% over the period. In 57% of poisoning deaths in which alcohol was implicated other drugs were also involved, particularly benzodiazepines. In 94% of deaths in which methadone was implicated other drugs were also involved, particularly benzodiazepines. In 72% of deaths in which heroin was implicated other drugs were also involved, in the main, benzodiazepines. This combination of drug taking is not only affecting people it is killing people at an enormous rate. As I said, in 2013 679 people died from drug-related poisoning. It is important in that regard that our response is appropriate.
When speaking about the war on drugs previous speakers used the phrase, "we're never going to win". I do not like that expression. It is the wrong way to look at the issue of drug use and drug addiction. The challenge for Government is to reduce the harm over time, to make improvements year-on-year. Today, we are dealing with legislation on the misuse of drugs. Other legislative measures around enforcement and so on will be required. If we are to bring about change in this area we will have to change our behaviour. This will require a huge amount of investment, time and effort in educating young people about the dangers and consequences of drug misuse. We did this in relation to drink driving. When I was growing up it was the norm for people to have a few pints and drive. The advertisements on television at that time quoted "two will do". Now, there is zero tolerance in that area. There has been a cultural shift; drink driving rates have reduced, our roads have improved and our cars are of better quality. While the number of cars on our roads has doubled the number of fatalities has halved. If we are to bring about significant behavioural change, we will need a constructive educational programme on drugs which the whole of society can buy into. There will always be drug experimentation and drug use but we now have an opportunity to radically change how we deal with the issue. This will require change in our behaviour, our education and our awareness. In my view, this should be the focus of any new national drugs strategy.
Earlier when speaking about drug-related deaths I indicated that in terms of poisonings alcohol was involved in many cases. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, referred recently in the Seanad to the development of a new national drugs strategy. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, will be aware that the national drugs strategy introduced in 2009 included specific elements on alcohol, which subsequently led to the introduction of a national substance misuse strategy. I am hoping that alcohol is included and that we will have a national substance misuse strategy not just a drugs strategy. It is important the strategy is what we determined it should be. It may be that I misunderstood what the Minister said. It is important, based on the two strategies that have emerged, that we have a national substance misuse strategy.
I understand the new strategy will be published sometime this year. From the Minister of State's point of view, that will be a difficult task. It may be the case that because it took a while for a Government to be formed she is now playing catch-up. There is a consultative process to be gone through. Members of the Dáil and Seanad had an input into the previous national drugs strategy. There were two specific Oireachtas meetings on the issue and a discussion on it in the Seanad. I hope that in advance of publication of the national substance misuse strategy Members of both Houses will have an opportunity to be involved in its development.
I heard a number of Members speak about the Portuguese model and so on. I believe that any changes to legislation must be evidence-based. It is easy when looking at an issue to take a narrow look and to form the view that a particular treatment works in a particular situation. However, issues must be addressed in the wider context. In other words, does it have a consequential effect in terms, perhaps, of prevalence, use and so forth? I have an open mind on all of this. The decisions that we make in this House need to be evidence-based. As, I said there has been much talk about the Portuguese model; I believe we need to look further afield than that. I do not have an ideological hang-up in terms of injection rooms and so forth but I would like to see the medical evidence that they work for that particular cohort and to know if in that regard there are any unintended consequences for society in general or other users. That is important.
A number of Members said earlier that this legislation will not be effective but it is only one element of a programme to deal with drug addiction and the problems associated with it. During the passage of legislation through this House on head shops the common line was that even though the head shops would be closed people would still be able to get the drugs and, therefore, the problem would not be tackled. The subsequent reality was that people did continue to get the drugs but fewer people got them. That is the evidence from the accident and emergency departments and the consultants. According to them it was like switching off a tap overnight. There continue to be problems with substances known as legal highs but not of the previous scale and level. Each measure we introduce must be incremental in improving the situation. This Bill will not solve the problem and it does not pretend to solve it but it is one step in tackling the cohort of prescription drugs that are doing harm.
I distinguish between addicts who are using them and those who peddle prescription drugs for profit. The Bill allows us to deal with the latter. I genuinely wish the Minister of State well and look forward to the development of the drugs strategy over the remainder of the year.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. At the outset, I will declare my interest. I am a practising pharmacist and have been in a position to legally dispense these products over the past number of years. They have a significant role to play when prescribed and dispensed in the correct manner. Unfortunately, over the past number of years, they have been significantly abused. Their cost is very attractive to people as they can be acquired quite cheaply. A drugs worker in Kerry recently informed me that a standard Friday night's entertainment for a teenager who wants to partake of them would be four or five zopiclone tablets and a couple of cans of beer. This is a sad reflection on our society.
I agree with Deputy Curran and I welcome this Bill because it is one step of many that are needed in tackling a huge problem. I do not agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett that we will never win the battle because we must continue to fight, legislate and enforce. We will never solve any problem 100% but we cannot give up and accept defeat. We must continually fight and this is what I will do as long as I have breath in my body.
While welcoming the Bill, which will help in respect of the abuse of benzodiazepines and other drugs, the issue goes back to resources. Speaker after speaker has made the same point, namely, that unless we resource the communities to fight the issues, we are going nowhere. I will throw out a few suggestions for the Minister of State. We must start educating at a primary school level. We must make children in fifth and sixth class aware of what is out there once they enter secondary school because once they enter secondary school, they come into contact with 15, 16 and 17-year-olds who have already partaken of drugs and they have no clue what they are getting themselves into. Somebody experiments at a young age and before we know it, they are caught in a vicious circle. This is something we need to look at very seriously. We need to educate our young people at the appropriate time.
The second thing I would like to see is our gardaí re-resourced to the level that is needed. I have figures in front of me stating that there has been something like a 28% cut. This was in the time when we had to go through the very difficult cutbacks during the recession in which we found ourselves. We are out of that now and must resource and reflect the position we are in and give gardaí the resources they need to tackle this problem.
The drugs task forces set up in the past were extremely beneficial and did wonderful work. Again, their budgets have been cut to shreds and they need to be reinstated. I will give the Minister of State an example. Kerry has its problems, although they are not as significant as those in larger cities. However, it still has its problems. There are three people in the entire county of Kerry working for the drugs task force as full-time officers to help and counsel people, give them assistance and refer them. There is one in north Kerry, one in Tralee, which has a population of 30,000 people, and one in south Kerry. I know those three individuals and they do wonderful work but they could do with at least three more. I ask the Minister of State to look at the funding for the southern regional drugs task force to allow for this. An extra three people would make a huge difference and go a long way towards counselling and helping those young people who need their assistance.
Web security is another issue with which we need to deal. The ability to deal in drugs online is frightening. As a practising pharmacist, it is even more worrying. People can go online and get more or less what they want. People do not understand the dangers in getting online prescription drugs because there are no controls over them. They have no idea where they come from or what is in them. This issue needs full-time attention.
The drug market evolves and changes. The problem we are talking about today will have moved on in 12 months' time and it will be a different one so it is a constant battle that needs constant resourcing and monitoring. We need to work on it, allow ourselves to move with the times and not react. The problem around benzodiazepines goes back ten or 15 years and we are dealing with it now. We need to be far more proactive in dealing with the issues.
I reiterate the points made by Deputy Curran. The deaths per annum as a result of this far exceed other areas that get far more attention and far more funding. We need to collectively ensure this area is resourced properly so that we can deal with the challenges facing us. We should not give up. I know the area represented by the Minister of State and how passionate she is about this issue. I look forward to working with her to tackle this growing problem so that at least we can control it and, hopefully, improve on it in time.
I thank the Minister of State for being here to discuss this Bill. I also welcome the Bill. My story is a bit different. In contrast to Deputies Curran and Boyd Barrett, I am from the west of the country. We cannot give up. We must have a very positive and collective approach because we must work together. We know how bad the situation is. We see it every day on the television, hear about it on the radio and see it on our streets. I come from a wee village called Portumna in east Galway. It is on all the streets throughout east Galway. Parents are talking about it. As Deputy Brassil said, Friday night involves a fix of a few tablets and a few beers. Unfortunately, that is where it is at. It is unfortunate that society has reached this point but we must reel it back in and see how we can move forward.
I think the approach is simple. As party spokesperson on children and youth affairs, I believe we must start with education. Regrettably, we must go back to education in national schools because we must ensure children are educated by the time they enter secondary school. The reason for this is because they are exposed to some 16 and 17-year-olds who are already hardened to drug use. All of a sudden, new prey is entering first year. They are seen as easy targets and become their runners. They are involved in a circle before they even get to third level. I thought that my young children would never be exposed to this and was praying that they would not be exposed to it until they reached third level but I must be realistic in this day and age because it is coming to them quicker and quicker every time.
It is back to education. We need to support our teachers. This is where the guidance counsellor role will have to kick in.
I will tell a little story I came across once. A little child said in company one evening that a classmate had brought Tic Tacs to school. They had brought them in to dispense them to play at being drug dealers. They were doing that in sixth class with Tic Tacs and they role played correctly because they were seeing it at home. It is a case of monkey see, monkey do. We have to protect the children and we need to educate them that what they are doing with the Tic Tacs is not acceptable. They obviously see it at another level, probably at home. We need to support and educate the teachers. We need to educate kids in the classroom, who might not be exposed to it, about the difference between right and wrong. We need to support guidance counsellors and get that service back in again. Guidance counsellors are required because they are the helping hand needed in school if a child is having a hard time or under peer pressure. They can take time out and talk to them and understand what is going on.
Family resource centres in the country play a huge role because they provide support to the mother, father, aunt or uncle who wants to talk to somebody about it or who is looking for direction and support. There are approximately 100 family resource centres in the country. They are diverse; there are 12 or 13 in Kerry and ten in Galway. When one looks at the country as a unit, they play a vital role. That is where we should be putting in our counselling services. That is where we should be having that time-out to provide space for the families affected.
We have to look at how we are dispensing drugs and filling prescriptions. Do we need to fill everything on the prescriptions for the granny or whoever it is in the house? Unused drugs are now a target if they are lying around for kids who see they can make some money from them or who see their mates making it. It will involve a whole culture change to change the entire system. When one goes into collect drugs, they should only collect what is required so there is not a build-up in the presses at home. The build-up in the presses at home is becoming cash quality drugs for a generation to go and sell to prey. That is the reality.
The drugs task force we mentioned plays a vital role. Its members go out to communities and educate the community as a whole. It also gives a community an opportunity and safe space to discuss what they see going on day in, day out. It is an opportunity for the gardaí to come in to discuss it and share information in a safe space without naming anybody. I never realised that if one sees somebody with a jumper that was a little bit frazzled it could be because they were smoking drugs or something like that. That shows how inexperienced and not exposed to the real world I was. I learned that at a drugs task force meeting one night in a local community hall. They educate parents on what signs and symptoms to watch out for in their kids and if they are getting a bit down at home.
These Z-drugs are creating huge pressure for the simple reason that children are getting high. Mental health issues are a knock-on effect of that. It is a never-ending story but one which we have to halt at some stage. It starts with education and how we support educators, parents and the family resource centres. We then have to look at how we are dispensing. That falls under the Department of Health and how we work with the pharmacies and make people responsibly aware that it is far more than a prescription they are collecting and that it has a huge effect on the person it is not meant for. It is a marketable product that can be sold on the market and which puts children's lives at risk, bringing down full families, devastating communities and it does not seem to end. If we do not stop it, it will continue to the next generation. I go back to the story of the child with the Tic Tac. The child with the Tic Tac is the child who has seen the parents dispense. We need to stop it. I wish the Minister of State the very best of luck. She will have all our support on this side of the House because we see it in all our communities and we do not want it to continue. We want to protect the future.
I wish the Minister of State every success in her very important work and we welcome this legislation. As a party, we have been highlighting the need for this legislative improvement for some time. I echo the words of my colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, in her excellent contribution regarding the need for awareness. The local voluntary centres and organisations must be supported in the very good work they do in our communities. I will refer to alcohol and drug abuse in my constituency. Unfortunately, Cavan and Monaghan have a serious problem addiction to heroin and other psychoactive substances. I recently had the opportunity to meet with the chairman and manager of the Cavan and Monaghan drug and alcohol service, a voluntary organisation which is given some support by the HSE but not enough. That is an issue I will be following up with the Minister. I have done so already through parliamentary questions. The funding it gets from the drugs task force has been static for quite a number of years and unfortunately the problem and the number of people it is treating is increasing. It badly needs additional resources to carry on even the level of service it has at present. A small number of people are doing excellent work trying to provide a service with the support of some pharmacists and GPs. I welcome the work of those clinicians. It is an area that has not had the provision of a good statutory service to deal with drug and alcohol addiction. We need to make progress in that area and I hope the Minister of State will be given the additional resources to distribute through the HSE and other fora to ensure the work of these voluntary groups is supported in a meaningful way so they can provide the services that are needed.
What was clear to me at the meeting I had with those people and from ongoing contact with them is their concern about the growth of the problem. It is a very serious issue. I heard other speakers during the course of this debate refer to the proliferation of psychoactive substances which are a real problem. It must be taken into consideration that my constituency, which is made up of the two southern Ulster counties, has a long border with Northern Ireland. For historical and other reasons, it is not easy to police that area. Criminals can cause damage in our jurisdiction and be quickly gone from it. They are not apprehended to the extent we would like to see. There is that additional problem in the area. One of the issues brought to my attention by members of this group was that while they primarily see adults, they do their best to make a part-time counsellor available for those under 18. One other issue they feel strongly needs to be addressed is the lack of residential homelessness support services. When they are trying to support a homeless person, they often have to try to access accommodation in a local B&B. That can be fine in the short term but proper residential services for people who have particular addiction problems are needed. There are so many areas that need to be tackled and given additional resources if we are to have meaningful progress and try to counteract these addiction issues. My local newspaper, The Anglo-Celt, published an editorial that tried to create an awareness of the difficulties with heroin in rural counties like Cavan and Monaghan. In the past, those of us who live in rural Ireland often thought wrongly that drugs are a problem of major urban areas.
Sadly it is in every rural parish, village and small town today. I suppose not all of us accepted that for quite some time. Unfortunately, it is only in recent years that the realisation is coming to all of us that those problems that were associated with the major towns and cities, particularly in some disadvantaged urban areas, are right throughout our rural parishes today.
In that leading article - I commend the editor, Ms Linda O'Reilly, on the depth of thought that was put into it and the awareness it has created - she referred in particular to the initiative of the parents' associations of the second level schools in Cavan town. They came together and published an information leaflet on drugs for the parents of the 2,500 students who attend those four second level schools in Cavan town. They did that in conjunction with both An Garda Síochána and Cavan Drug and Alcohol Awareness. In producing that information leaflet, they educated themselves on the drugs available in the Cavan marketplace, the effects of these substances on their children, the telltale signs of use and abuse, and support services locally for any parents or young people who may require them. There is an onus on parents to read the leaflet and to ensure they have as much knowledge as possible to identify a problem, if one is emerging in a house, in an estate or in their own locality.
Another issue I have raised on numerous occasions in this House during questions to the Minister for Justice and Equality and in other debates is that Cavan-Monaghan is the only Garda division in the country that does not have a dedicated drugs unit. Considering that it is a Border area and we have, unfortunately, a growing and escalating problem with drug abuse in the area, I would hope that the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, could consult with An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice and Equality at senior level to ensure additional resources are provided to that Garda division to enable the chief superintendent to re-establish a dedicated drugs unit. If we are to be serious about tackling the scourge of drugs, we must have dedicated officers whose sole remit is to deal with those criminals who are peddling and spreading those substances.
I sincerely hope that effort can be made if additional resources become available to the Minister of State. There is always pressure on resources but we must try to ensure that we take an approach that will tackle effectively the scourge of drugs. All of us have a duty to highlight the difficulties and serious issues surrounding the use of drugs and their availability. I hope the Minister of State can highlight to the Minister for Justice and Equality and to the officials in the Department the need to provide those additional resources because over the past five years, in particular, Garda numbers have been reduced dramatically in the Cavan-Monaghan area. Thankfully, there was the need to reduce numbers going back a number of years ago when the peace process was advanced, but now they have gone below the level badly needed to ensure we have a proper policing service.
I understand the legislation is aimed at giving the Garda powers to arrest those who are selling prescription drugs in our communities and that the big driver was the concern about Z drugs and tablets in north inner-city Dublin. I understand the powers are not there and, incredibly, the Garda is not in a position to move effectively on that particular phenomenon. It is a phenomenon that is a significant source of revenue to drug lords and is damaging many young people throughout the country.
When we are dealing with drug misuse, it would be a mistake to focus entirely on security. It is not the silver bullet. It is not the answer. There needs to be a multifaceted approach and an energy and drive behind awareness programmes and supporting families, as well as the users themselves, who are already trapped in drug use because the effects will be felt so much more widely throughout the family and the community.
From my own involvement with the drugs task force locally, I have seen at first hand the significant work that the drugs worker and those around him or her can get done supporting families through programmes, such as Strengthening Families, and their efforts to get drug users back on track again, but time and again their resources have been cut to the bone. They are struggling to be able to put in place those programmes, to support those families and to support the users. We need to ensure that the likes of the drugs task force and so many other voluntary groups that operate in our communities are adequately resourced and are able to help and direct people to alternatives.
A significant step forward is the realisation that it is not only an issue in cities, such as Dublin or Cork, and that it has come right into every rural community and down every bóithrín. That merely reinforces that having a garda on every corner, however helpful, is not the solution. Emphasis must be placed on education and on support to the community drugs task forces and youth clubs, through schools and various voluntary groups.
The decision on career guidance teachers was a blow to schools and it really needs to be examined and reversed so that such support is there for students who are in distress and who may be tempted to go that route. Also, for such small money as the youth club grant that so many education and training boards, ETBs, would have been distributing, those voluntary groups were active in many communities and providing alternatives to younger people. They also provided people with leadership training and the confidence and skill to be able to stand up, rather than be sucked in, to that sphere of drugs. Small sums of money would make a positive impact in many communities.
There is also a need to examine accessibility, not only on the street and on the side of the road, but over the Internet. Many of these prescriptions drugs are not being delivered by a drug dealer. Unfortunately, they are being delivered by the postman and the courier to the door. If ever there was proof that the Garda is not the silver bullet, there it is.
It is important that there would be a wider strategy. While this piece of legislation will be helpful for the Garda in tackling part of the situation, it is not the whole answer. There needs to be emphasis on a wider strategy with a key role for education and for supporting community and voluntary groups that are working throughout our communities.
I thank Deputies Aindrias Moynihan, Deputy Brendan Smith and Rabbitte for their contributions and their co-operation with the Chair. The next speaker on my list who is in the Chamber is Deputy Clare Daly.
No doubt the communities which have been ravaged by crime and addiction have been clamouring for a number of the measures in this Bill to be implemented out of desperation at the blight that has been imposed on their communities which see the most vulnerable exploited by those who want to profit from their misery. The support for these measures comes out of desperation and we must stand back. I understand people saying that we need to bring this in now and then we can look at the bigger picture and tack on policies later, but we cannot put off that debate. We must change our approach now.
The very fact that we are even looking at a Bill which lengthens a list of medication to add to another list of medication that is already prohibited is an indication that this type of approach sadly does not work because the reality is that people with addictions will find other drugs.
If we add to the list, in a couple of weeks there will be another list and some other concoction within reach after that. These people will find other ways to get high using whatever means are available. In many ways, it could be argued that lengthening the list increases the risks associated with drug abuse. All of us would agree that drugs destroy lives and communities - that is unquestionable - but so does bad policy, unemployment, cutting funding to schools and closing crèches, libraries, swimming pools and so on. We must look at the big picture. Sadly, criminalising people and demonising working class communities does not work either. There is no doubt these measures are going to be implemented in working class communities as economic and social problems are a factor.
This morning, a couple of us had the privilege of going to Cloverhill Prison where we met some offenders involved with a really innovative and internationally award-winning programme with the International Red Cross. It deals with a community-based health care model, with prisoners delivering it in the prison community, working in close conjunction with medical and prison staff in the facility. We should certainly try to get them to come here and give a presentation in the Oireachtas as all the people ended up in there, one way or another, through drug related crimes. There may have been a tragedy or something in their lives that led them to a path of drug abuse and perhaps it involved criminal behaviour such as theft etc. Their incarceration impacts on spouses or partners who may engage in crime to deal with economic issues. We must take in all these factors when we consider how to deal with drugs.
Our prison population would be entirely different if the drug issue were dealt with and we would have a fraction of the size of prison population that now exists. In that sense, the starting point for me must be a health issue rather than a criminal justice matter. There is a widespread consensus across the medical profession and those specialising in addiction that this is a disease, so we must look at dealing with stigma, reducing harm and tackling the issue as an illness. We cannot arrest ourselves out of the problem but that is really what we are doing. In an Irish context, when people are put in prison, they are being put into the path of further drug use. Sadly, drugs are rife in the prison community and we know of cases of people trying to rebuild their lives upon release who have been encouraged by dealers on the outside or by debts to which they have been tied to break the conditions of their release in order that they can return to jail loaded with drugs. People who want to move on with their life are being dragged back into the cycle because we continue to deal with this through the criminal justice system rather than giving people the opportunity to develop their full potential as citizens.
The lads we met worked very closely with staff in prison and do a really good job. They acknowledged they had done wrong in their lives and none begrudged being in prison. All of them had got to a place where they saw it as an opportunity to rebuild their lives and re-engage with the community and society. That is what we should be doing. We must treat people as people, give them respect and understand their humanity and dignity. That is a far better approach.
One might look at this Bill and see it as an immediate issue in order that we can deal with the bigger picture afterwards, but that is not good enough. With these regulations we are just taking the war on drugs to a local level, criminalising the most marginalised. Sadly, it will not have any impact on the big players who live the affluent lifestyle and prey on the vulnerable. Anybody working with people with addictions or family members would agree the answer is not punishment but treatment. The Department of Health should be leading a progressive approach in this way, with education and support for programmes to combat addiction and the taking up of drugs by young people. Sadly, as the measures in the Bill are one-sided, it is a repeat of bad policy, meaning drug barons will get richer and the poor will get prison.
I again laud the Portuguese model, which we have discussed a great deal over the past while. Portugal took the steps 14 years ago to treat possession and use of small quantities of drugs as a public health issue rather than one of criminality. If somebody gets caught with a small amount of drugs in Portugal, that person will not end up in jail or with a criminal record. That is the case if a person is found with less than a ten-day supply of anything, including marijuana, heroin or anything else. The person is sent to a three-person commission for the dissuasion of drug addiction, typically comprising a lawyer, a doctor and a social worker. The commission recommends treatment or a fine or otherwise the person is sent off without a penalty.
The facts prove this approach. In 1999, nearly 1% of the Portuguese population was addicted to heroin and rates of drug related AIDS deaths were the highest in Europe. Portugal decided to decriminalise the issue in 2001 and complemented the policy with the allocation of resources to improve prevention, treatment, harm reduction and socially integrated programmes. The level of drug abuse decreased as a result and it is now below the European average. Drug use among young people has declined, along with deaths, the number of people in the courts, offenders in prison etc. We know this is not the only example and 25 other countries have removed criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs.
This could be combined with the freeing up of Garda resources, as many of the communities most afflicted would seek extra resources. It would be far better to focus on health improvements as prison does not deal with it now, despite some great programmes in the prison system. People in prison may engage with programmes that provide leadership skills and a sense of self-worth that they may never have received on the outside, but when they return outside to the same conditions they experienced before, it makes such people prey to drug abuse. It is human nature and very understandable.
This is one of a number of measures we will discuss in the House in the next period. There is no quick fix but we must be careful in implementing measures, as what we try to do with the best will in the world can sometimes end up causing more harm to some of our most vulnerable young people. It can bring them into the criminal justice system when we should be working with them to keep them out of it. It is not a case of dealing with this now and the good stuff later, as the direct experience of other countries is that we must deal with this as a health issue first, with a serious alternative and integrated approach.
We will now return to the Minister of State. I thank her for being here for the debate today and yesterday evening.
I begin by thanking the 27 Deputies who took the time to come to the Chamber to speak on this issue. It was the same with the Senators last week. The drugs issue is beyond politics or political parties. It is about people's lives. It is in every town and village throughout the country so it is not just relevant to the capital city. It knows no boundaries. It can affect people who are very wealthy or poor and it can affect the marginalised. The issue goes right across the board.
I have taken many details about what people have said. I intend to read through them thoroughly and I have picked out certain issues that people have raised as well, including the issue of decriminalisation. I stated in the Seanad last week that I do not want to criminalise any young person. Sometimes, when young people get into a criminal activity for whatever reason, it can be difficult for them to shake off that black mark throughout their lives. It can lead to a life of criminal activity rather than escaping such activity. We must consider that in the long run, although this is not the appropriate time for that. I will explain the reasons for that.
A number of people made clear their deep convictions and understanding of the drugs issues in areas they represent, such as parishes and towns.
I have taken a great deal from what they have said and I will look at the issues in more detail. I want to quote one or two people who spoke, particularly last night. Deputy Jack Chambers said, "It is an area in need of major reform in terms of our approach" and he is right. The whole area of drug addiction and the way we look on people who take drugs needs to be reformed and we need to look at it in more depth. I was struck by something Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan said. She has a wealth of experience not only in education, but also in dealing with people in the community in which she has lived and worked all her life. It is only a small line, but she said "I really feel that we need to look at prevention education in a different way". She is correct. Just as Deputy Chambers said, we need to look at it in a different way.
I visited Ballymun last week and listened to a report that was done there. I cannot remember the name, but Deputy Róisín Shortall mentioned her last night. She very much welcomed the publication of the Bill and said that it is a long time coming. Last week, I visited the local Ballymun task force, where this document was produced. It gives information on the people who use the services but more so the people who give the services and what happens to them. The pressure that is put on them both emotionally and physically can even get to the point that some people who are involved in dealing with drug addiction and chronic users burn out. I have read the document and I intend going back to them about some of the points that were raised.
I have not been hiding in the grass for the past 60 years. I was born and reared in the area where I still live. From an early age I was very active, working in the parish and the community, on local summer projects, youth clubs and everything else. In our community, where I have lived and worked, we have had our fair share of devastation because of drugs. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan described it last night as a nightmare and it was a nightmare when one brought one's children out of the house in the morning to see somebody in the front garden with a syringe stuck in their arm, injecting themselves. Senior citizens could not go to the local shops and had to change the post office where they collected their pension because they were afraid to pass by people who were either openly selling methadone or injecting themselves. It was a serious crisis.
However, there are two sides to every story and there are victims. There are victims right across the country, in all our families, in our neighbourhoods and in our extended families. I have had my fair share of dealing with victims in my own extended family, where people who, for whatever reason, got involved in drug addiction and were used to distribute drugs as well ended up with their lives being threatened and other people having to step in to try to get them out of trouble. I know many grandparents locally who come to talk to me about having to go to the credit union and borrow money just to pay off the debts of their grandsons, granddaughters and family members because of the state they have got themselves into. This is not news to anybody. Everybody here in this Chamber knows what I am talking about because they probably hear those people as well.
Deputy Catherine Connolly asked me last night whether I had read the report that was done by Deputy David Stanton and the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I have read it in depth and I cannot find in its conclusions anything with which I would disagree. However, we live in our own country and we need to examine not only the Portuguese model, but also other models and we need to come up with something that suits us as a nation. I intend in the time I am in this position, whether that is long or short, to look at this issue. I intend to find an effective way to help those people who, for whatever reason, fall into crime through drugs, and particularly young people, because a blight on a young person's passport so that they cannot go away on a holiday or cannot get a job is something that could lead any of us, if we were in that situation, to a life of crime.
I had time to read a few bits and pieces around our own drug treatment court and from reading about it and the people involved in it, and talking to them, I was impressed. It does not tick all the boxes, but there is something there that can be built on. It may not be like the Portuguese model or the model in Sydney or other places people have spoken about, but once we have something to start from, it is something we should look at.
I just want to go to one or two other things, and I promise the Acting Chairman that I will not go over time. He can shout at me if I do.
The Minister of State has plenty of time left.
Many people have spoken about the drugs task forces and I am very familiar with the drugs task forces in my area and the work they do and do not do. I have concerns, like everyone else who has spoken, about the loss of funding to drugs task forces down through the years. I am not going to stand here and repeat what I have said before, that is, that money was not there. When there is no money at home, one has to choose what one wants to pay and does not want to pay. It is like a household budget in many ways - one has to reduce certain things. I have concerns about the drugs task forces. I have made this very clear in my own constituency. Some of them are doing great work and others are doing the work they should be doing. We have to find out why. Is it all about funding? If it is, then no matter how much money we pour into them, they will not achieve what they are supposed to. I think it is about the organisations themselves. When they started, in 1996 or 1997, I remember going to one or two of their meetings and just sitting there, listening and looking at the work that was going on outside. I was very impressed. I hear people criticising drugs task forces - I have heard them here - and I have heard them say how well they are working. I am of the same frame of mind. I believe some of them are working very well and others are not and we need to find a balance somewhere to see why that is not happening.
I have concerns when people are trying to do good work in communities. I have been a member of a community hall for a long time and we have to have cake sales just to run bits and pieces. We should be supporting voluntary community workers out there who are contributing to keeping children out of harm's way. That is why I have great respect for the scouts, the guides, the GAA and the football teams, and the men and women who run football teams every weekend, because they are living in the heart of the community and they want to help the children because they know that if they do not the children are going to find themselves in deep trouble.
This is a new job to me. I am looking for as much help as I can get. I am looking to consult with as many people as I can, within the House and outside, on how the national drug strategy should be formed in the coming months. I have spoken to some people in here and in the Seanad. I have sat with Deputy John Curran and got his knowledge of his time in this job and I have taken on board much of what he said to me. I have spoken to Pat Carey and hope to meet him again and to have an in-depth discussion with him. This is a problem for all of us. It is not down to one individual or one Minister, it covers a wide range of Departments, two of which I am attached to. I want people to take the opportunity when we come to the open consultation process to put forward their ideas about what was good in the last strategy and what needs to go into the next one.
I am going to refer to part of the speech, if that is okay with the Acting Chairman, and he can stop me if I go over my time. I thank all the Deputies for their deep understanding of what drugs mean to their communities. I mean that sincerely. Every one of the contributors to the debate raised issues that have a real sense of value and should be part of the national drug strategy. All of us seek to prevent the misuse of dangerous substances by controlling the availability of those substances to the public, and deterring those who seek to make them available in an unsafe way. Problem drug use continues to be one of the most significant challenges facing our country. Somebody said to me, and I agree, that the drug problem has not really been taken seriously by any political party in this country, either now or in the past.
We have to change that and face up to the challenges because this affects people's lives. I am a firm believer that people with addictions are human beings. They are citizens of this country and have not fallen out of the sky like aliens. We have to look at drug addiction as an illness because if we do not we defeat the whole purpose of putting money into communities via drugs task forces. We have to treat people as individuals as tomorrow it could happen to my son, daughter or grandchildren or anybody in this House. Only when we start believing this to be a health issue and that the solutions must be led by health will things start to change.
Significant challenges face our country. Drug use results in damaging consequences for the individual concerned and for their families and also impacts the wider community and society on multiple levels. Directly or indirectly, every community is affected by drug abuse and addiction. Those struggling with drug problems are often the most marginalised in our society, and the word "marginalised" is a word I have heard many times. They may have multiple, complex, interlocking needs such as those related to poverty, housing, poor health and education which require multiple interventions involving a range of different agencies.
A number of Deputies have raised concerns about criminalising addicts and have suggested the decriminalisation of the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use. The Portuguese drug model has been mentioned as a model which Ireland might follow. In Portugal, it remains illegal to possess drugs for personal use. However, the offence is not a criminal one but is dealt with through the commission for the dissuasion of drug addiction, which can impose a range of sanctions. Persons addicted to drugs may be admitted to drug rehabilitation facilities. Every Member who has spoken in this debate has mentioned the lack of drug rehabilitation facilities.
Under the new drug strategy we will examine the approaches to drug policy and practice in other countries. We must look at the models of Portugal, Australia, Canada and European countries and take what we can from them. The development of the national drugs strategy will include a comprehensive consultation phase with key stakeholders, including key Government Departments, agencies, the community and voluntary sector and family networks. Consultation supports greater transparency, which is an important principle of good governance. It helps to ensure that the operation of Government is conducted with greater clarity and openness. For these reasons, my preference is for an inclusive consultation process which will give people the opportunity to engage and will allow for their views to be heard on this important issue to help define the strategy and the steps that should be taken to tackle drug problems in the coming years.
All interested parties will be invited to make written submissions regarding the shape and content of the next national drugs strategy. There will also be a number of special events to hear the views of the key stakeholders and those using the service and their families, as well as those living in communities directly impacted by the drug problem. I am particularly keen to hear from the ordinary members of the public and those whose voice may be seldom heard on this subject such as young people, Travellers, the Roma community and the LGBT community.
The Department of Health is in the process of planning the arrangements for the consultation. It is expected that this phase can be initiated by early September and feedback from the process will be written up in a report which will be considered by a steering committee which has been set up to give guidance and advice on the development of the strategy. I was struck by Deputy Curran's suggestion that we come back into the Dáil for a further debate when the report is ready.
This legislation is not the Government's sole response to tackling the drug problem. I remind Members of the commitment in the programme for Government to a health-led response to drug problems and to legislate for supervised injecting facilities. It is my intention to publish the necessary legislation in the autumn. I thank all those who have participated in the debate on this Bill. It is most helpful to me to hear their ideas on the challenges and possible solutions to addressing the drug problem in this State.
I thank the Minister and all Members for their contributions. I was moved by the fact that everyone seems to want to achieve the goal of tackling this issue and helping people who are in trouble with drugs.
The division will take place next Thursday, 14 July 2016, in accordance with Standing Order 70(2).