I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy John Curran, who is here to speak on the new national drugs strategy which has been of particular concern to the committee. I also welcome the Government decision to include alcohol and drugs in a combined national substance misuse policy. The Minister of State will brief us on this issue. I also welcome his officials and ask him to proceed, following which we will take questions from the committee.
National Drugs Strategy: Discussion with Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
I thank the Chairman. I thank the committee for giving me the opportunity to discuss the new national drugs strategy that will cover the period 2009 to 2016. Significant progress has been made since the committee discussed the drugs issue in February. The steering group set up to develop proposals and make recommendations on a new strategy reported to me in May. Following on from that report, I submitted the new strategy to the Government and, at its meeting of 16 June, the recommendations outlined in the new national drugs strategy 2009-16 were agreed, subject to resource considerations. In line with the proposals put forward, the Government also approved the establishment of an office of the Minister for drugs to subsume the functions previously undertaken by the national drug strategy team and the drug strategy unit of my Department. I will publish the new national drugs strategy in September.
Another major step forward was the Government decision of 31 March 2009 to include alcohol and drugs in a combined national substance misuse policy, an approach strongly advocated by this committee in recent years. The new national drugs strategy will now be seen as an interim policy, pending the development of the broader substance misuse strategy, which is expected to be finalised by the end of 2010. I do not intend to outline the new strategy in detail today but it is useful to reflect on the nature of the current drug problem and the actions needed to address it.
When the first national drugs strategy for 2001-08 was formulated, the primary focus was on the heroin problem in Dublin, mostly affecting more socially excluded communities. The drugs problem is now more widespread across the country, there is a greater mix of drugs and polydrug use is the norm among those who misuse drugs.
The two all-island drug prevalence surveys, in 2002-03 and 2006-07, and the European school survey project on alcohol and other drugs in 2003 and 2007, known as ESPAD, represent our best estimates of changes in drug use among the general adult and youth populations. The following are among the key findings of the drug prevalence surveys. Overall, recent drug use increased from 5.6% in 2002-03 to 7.2% in 2006-07 among all adults aged 15 to 64 years, with "recent drug use" being in the last year; overall current drug use remained stable at 2.9%, with "current drug use" being in the last month. Within that figure, the figure for younger adults decreased from 5.2% to 4.8%. There has been an emergence of cocaine as a threat. Illegal drug use continues to be predominantly a younger adult phenomenon, with those under 35 accounting for the bulk of usage. Males are twice as likely to use illegal drugs, though the rate of increase among females was significantly higher than that among males.
The 2007 ESPAD study was published through the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in March this year. This surveys the attitudes of school-going children to drugs in their 16th year, and it indicated that a lifetime use of any illicit drugs had decreased from 40% to 22% since the previous survey in 2003. Cannabis is the main illicit drug involved for this cohort and the figures for that showed a similar trend, dropping from 39% to 20%. While there may be a need to be cautious about the extent of the reduction shown in the findings of the 2007 survey, the ESPAD surveys since their inception in 1995 suggest a downward trend in overall under-age drug use among second level students.
The indications are that the use of heroin has stabilised in the Dublin region. The rate of new entrants to treatment decreased by approximately 20% between 2001-02 and 2006-07, while the average age of those in treatment has increased from 28 years in 2001 to 33 years in 2008. However, heroin has become more widely dispersed throughout the State, particularly in the major cities and in towns in Leinster. There is no doubt that heroin remains a significant problem and responding to it remains a fundamental element of the new strategy.
As in other western European countries, the use of cocaine has increased significantly across all social strata, albeit from a low base. While it is a nationwide problem, it is most prevalent in Dublin and in the east and south of the country. Another significant change is that polydrug use is now the norm among those who take drugs. I am advised that more than 70% of those presenting to treatment services are polysubstance users. The use of two or more substances, often including alcohol, presents substantial risks to those involved and increased challenges for treatment personnel.
There are also concerns about the misuse of prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs, as well as the continuing level of problem alcohol use in our society. This is emphasised by data contained in the national drugs-related death index, published last November by the alcohol and drug research unit of the Health Research Board. I outlined the findings of the report on my last appearance before the committee and reiterate its conclusion that while opiates continue to be mainly responsible for deaths by poisoning, polysubstance use of both illicit and licit drugs is a significant factor and has been a consistent feature in the period 1998 to 2005. Prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as alcohol, are implicated as part of the mix in many poisoning deaths involving polydrug use.
The new strategy will continue to use the five pillar approach, involving supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research. This approach has proved successful and is broadly in line with the European Union action plan on drugs for the years 2009 to 2012. With regard to the supply reduction pillar, the targets set in the 2001-08 strategy relating to the number of seizures and supply detections, as well as the volume of drugs seized, were all significantly exceeded. In recent years significant additional resources have been made available to address the drugs issue at national and local levels by the Garda Síochána and Revenue's Customs Service. As well as focusing directly on supply reduction, both these organisations also contributed to the prevention effort, in particular through programmes developed under the juvenile liaison scheme and the Garda diversion programme. The new strategy envisages the continued role of local policing fora and the inclusion of drugs issues in a more central way in the work of joint policing committees.
Increased co-operation at an international level is also evident. This was well illustrated by the huge seizure of cocaine last winter off the Cork coast. This arose from the work of the maritime analysis operations centre – narcotics, an initiative of seven western European countries, including Ireland, that is focused on reducing the threat of cocaine trafficking into the European Union. There will be a continued focus on co-operation at international level under the new strategy given the global nature of the drugs market.
I also look forward to the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009 the provisions of which will give the authorities the powers they need to address the scale of the threat we face in regard to drugs. During the extensive consultation process that preceded the formulation of the new strategy, the fear, intimidation and violence in communities arising from the drugs problem was a common theme. The new measures will allow us to tackle those problems effectively. Under the new strategy, the focus on the disruption of the supply of drugs will continue, with every effort being made to disrupt the expansion of existing markets and the emergence of new markets. I also look forward to increased efforts to prevent the supply of drugs in prisons, backed up by suitable treatment services.
The further development of prevention measures aimed primarily at those deemed to be most at risk of becoming involved in illegal drug use, and at the younger adult population generally, is a crucial element of the any new strategy. With this, it is necessary to develop awareness further among the general population in regard to problem drug and alcohol use, including the misuse of prescription drugs. In the school setting, the Walk Tall programme at primary level and the social, personal and health education, SPHE, programme at second level are generally agreed to be conceptually sound and in line with the best evidence-based practice on prevention. They were the subject of praise at this month's meeting of the European Union Horizontal Working Group on Drugs where the European school survey project on alcohol and other drugs, ESPAD, results were considered. The challenge is to deliver these programmes in the most effective way across the whole school environment to better equip all of our children to handle the real dangers that they will face.
Early school leaving has been identified as a key issue within the broader social inclusion agenda as set out in Towards 2016. It is also an important issue in terms of the onset of early problem substance use. In recent years, the Department of Education and Science has developed a significant range of measures aimed at improving school outcomes. While this is showing some positive results, it is important that the effort continues. I also look forward to the consolidation of youth services within the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, giving rise to opportunities to make accelerated progress in this regard.
Many of the risk factors around problem drug use are being addressed within the broader social inclusion agenda. The role of the national drug strategy in many cases is to complement the actions developed to respond to these issues. It is also important to enhance the protective factors that help to prevent early onset of problem substance use. These relate in the main to family and educational factors. All relevant agencies must work towards the co-ordination of the efforts to boost the life skills, confidence and social competence of individuals in our society. Meanwhile, under the new strategy, efforts to raise the awareness of the general public to the dangers of problem substance abuse will aim to make people, particularly younger adults and their parents, more informed about the personal and societal consequences of problem substance use.
The period of the previous strategy has seen significant progress in the range and quality of drug treatment services. The numbers on methadone treatment for heroin addiction has increased substantially to approximately 8,850 people in May this year. Notwithstanding this expansion, the waiting times being experienced in a number of locations need to be addressed. These are mainly in the midlands, east and south as well as in a small number of treatment centres in Dublin. Plans are being advanced with the HSE to fast-track a number of treatment centres to bring services on-line by the end of this year. I will elaborate later.
While the number of GPs and pharmacies involved with the service has increased over the lifetime of the strategy, there is still a need for more to become involved, especially in regard to GPs outside the Dublin region. The development of other substitute treatment options along with the further development of drug-free approaches must also be pursued to ensure that a full range of options are available to problem opiate users presenting for treatment.
In that respect, I have asked that the methadone implementation committee to examine further the potential for moving more people off methadone to a drug-free lifestyle. While methadone treatment has been beneficial and many will continue to use it on a long-term basis, the possibilities for people to progress to a drug-free lifestyle should be explored. We should work towards this objective if the advice to me indicates it to be a feasible approach.
Overall, the future development of services must be based on having in place a system that guarantees a continuum of care for people presenting for treatment and rehabilitation. The development of integrated service provision and enhanced inter-agency working between the statutory, voluntary and community services is fundamental to achieving successful outcomes. The work of the National Drug Rehabilitation Implementation Committee, NDRIC, which is chaired by the HSE and is responsible for overseeing and monitoring the implementation of the recommendations of the report of the working group on drugs rehabilitation, will be most important in this regard. Its work will cover the development of protocols, service level agreements, case management, quality standards and training in regard to drug rehabilitation and the inter-agency working that is crucial to achieving optimum outcomes for the people involved.
Last month I chaired a meeting of statutory and voluntary sector and HSE representatives involved in residential rehabilitation with a view to kick-starting the fuller integration of services. This work will be continued over a short period with a focus on achieving real steps forward for those endeavouring to regain the benefits of life from an existence dominated by drug use. The development of an overdose prevention strategy, responding to outcomes of the national drug-related deaths index, is also being pursued and proposals in that regard will be available to me in the coming months.
Other key treatment issues under the new strategy are the use of a four-tier model approach, with treatment available at the level appropriate to the needs of individuals underpinned by an appropriate clinical governance framework, initiatives focused on the prevention and treatment of blood borne viruses, particularly hepatitis C, continued development of treatment services in prisons, ensuring a continuum of care for people on release, the further expansion of family support services and an increased focus on at risk groups such as under 18 year olds and children of drug users.
Much progress has been made in the area of research and information. I commend the work of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and the alcohol and drug research unit of the Health Research Board over the period of the previous strategy. Under the new strategy, my emphasis will be on ensuring the availability of accurate, timely, relevant and comparable data to inform decisions on initiatives to counteract problem drug use. There is also a need to continue to develop indicators and reporting systems on the extent and nature of problem substance use in Ireland to inform policy development and to better input into the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and other international agencies. In that regard it is proposed to seek to put in place a unique identifier to facilitate the development of reporting systems in the health area, while respecting the privacy and rights of the individuals concerned.
The development of the new strategy presented an opportunity to look at the structures through which we deliver the overall effort to tackle the drugs problem. As I indicated, a new office of the Minister for drugs is to be established that will subsume the functions previously undertaken by the national drug strategy team and the drug strategy unit of my Department. The new office of the Minister for drugs will continue to address the existing and emerging needs of problem substance users, their families and their communities; facilitate the Minister of State who is given responsibility by Government for the national drugs strategy to effectively fulfil that role; facilitate co-ordination across statutory, community and voluntary sectors; build upon the partnership process that is already in place including through the continuation of the work of the current local and regional drugs task forces; provide the necessary assurances in regard to governance and accountability issues; streamline administration; reflect problem substance use as a global issue that must be tackled on a world-wide, EU, national, regional and local basis; and marry the bottom-up approach to a top-down perspective to achieve and deliver a comprehensive and effective response to problem substance misuse.
Improved performance will have to be achieved with limited resources. Thus, the optimum use of the resources allocated to tackling the drugs problem across the various Departments and agencies involved is imperative; the total spend for 2009 is estimated to be approximately €274 million. With the greater inter-agency working envisaged across all sectors, I am confident that this is achievable.
I am determined to tackle the issue of problem substance use over the coming years and I believe the new national drugs strategy will facilitate this. Targeted actions across the pillars of the strategy, with named agencies allocated responsibility for each, are included in the strategy and it is intended to develop an overall performance management framework to monitor and assess progress.
The problems are major and resources are scarce, but I look forward to working with my colleagues in other Departments and agencies, and in partnership across the statutory, community and voluntary sectors, to ensure that real and lasting progress is made over the lifetime of the new national drugs strategy for the benefit of individuals, their families and their communities.
I thank the Minister of State for updating the committee on his strategy and plans. There is much material for deliberation by the committee and I know members are anxious to comment and ask questions. Prior to asking members to put questions, as the new Chairman of the committee I warmly welcome the fact that alcohol and drugs will be included in this new combined national substance misuse policy. I am aware the committee has been pushing this and I certainly agree it is the right approach and long overdue. There has been a level of acceptance of abuse of alcohol among young people. We know it is a very serious social issue and we have a problem with it nationally.
The fact that alcohol and drugs will be combined in this major new initiative and that the broad substance misuse strategy to be produced by the end of 2010 will include alcohol is a significant development. All I suggest is that, if possible, it should be done prior to the end of 2010. Taking account of the amount of data available at EU and national level I hope the Minister of State can be more ambitious with regard to bringing forward the strategy. We are all aware that alcohol abuse is a major issue and the Minister of State made another obvious point in his submission on the mixture of alcohol and drugs being a lethal cocktail abused by young people in particular. We welcome this.
The other issue that strikes me as somebody involved in education prior to my time as a politician is the correct reference to prevention and tackling the early onset of problem substance use. That would involve working with families and schools because serious issues arise regarding young people who are drawn into alcohol and drug abuse. In many cases, their confidence and social competence needs to be boosted.
I will respond briefly to the Chairman. In regard to alcohol, I acknowledge this committee has always advocated a joint strategy. The clear message from our consultations with the public and targeted groups in various Departments was that a joint strategy is required. I am glad that a Government decision was made in this regard, although I am not saying it was supported by everybody.
The Chairman specifically asked whether a substance misuse strategy could be in place before the end of next year. We will strive to introduce it as quickly as possible but if a deadline is not imposed it will go on forever.
I fully support the Chairman's comments in regard to educating young people. Two issues arise in regard to education, namely, awareness among young people generally and at-risk groups in particular. The latter are clearly identified as children who drop out of school or whose parents are drug users. They need targeted interventions.
I am aware that members of the committee have been very active on this issue and I am anxious to give them the floor.
I welcome the Minister of State and his officials. The abuse of drugs is our greatest national scandal. The Government is not showing the same commitment on drugs as it is on alcohol, in which regard the Road Safety Authority and various high profile people have expressed their disapproval of drinking and driving. Since I was elected to the Dáil, I have not seen the same commitment from the Government or the HSE in regard to selling the message on drug abuse. I hope that will be addressed in the strategy.
I am disappointed by the number of lives that have been lost through drug driving. Nothing has yet been done about random testing of drivers for drugs. We are told not to drink and drive but more people are being killed on a daily basis by people who drive under the influence of drugs. The Government has not revealed a willingness to do something about this. I ask the Minister of State to confirm that when a serious accident takes place, those involved are not tested for drugs or alcohol.
The last national strategy made dozens of commitments but very few of them were delivered. I ask the Minister of State to outline three or four commitments that he wants to see delivered in the new strategy.
I have raised the issue of accountability on numerous occasions at this committee and at Question Time. Who is dealing with what? The trouble with drug strategy is that it involves the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children and Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It is essential that we establish the office of the Minister for drugs with overall responsibility for this issue. Let us call a spade a spade. The HSE is unable to deliver necessary services and drug treatment centres will not be a priority because it has to manage the day-to-day operations of hospitals and health services. The Comptroller and Auditor General has reported that the €140 million spent on drugs treatment brought poor value for money. We need to make a strong commitment in this area.
We have to take the people who sell drugs off the streets. We have given the Government powers in this regard and I hope we will now see action. There is a softly, softly approach to the people concerned. We know them in every corner of this country. They have a lifestyle with the best of cars and they are going to the social welfare offices every week. They have the biggest houses in the country and are moving around the country. They are in the drugs trade and need to be taken out. We need to deal with the people who are breaking the law on a daily basis. People will be under further pressure watching their homes. With the recession, these habits must be filled and looked after. If drug users do not have the resources they will steal and kill and injure people. We must take them off the streets and deal with them.
Regarding the Minister's Department and the McCarthy report, I would like him and his officials to confirm to this committee today what they will do. There are cutbacks in every Department. We have poor services in rural Ireland, and the McCarthy report was a major attack on rural Ireland. It does not want to see any kind of rural services. We do not have services in drugs or transport. The report does not want the rural schools or Garda stations.
Will the Minister deal with the issue that people are on waiting lists for treatments that are not available in rural Ireland? They are only in the cities, and even in the cities there are major waiting lists for them. The Government gave a commitment that it would have these treatment centres up and running and that these people would not have to wait a year of 18 months. A year or 18 months in an addict's life is a long time and the longer they go down that road the more difficult it is to get them off the drugs.
In the last drugs strategy we spent a lot of money and did not get value. This time I want to know if we will have accountability. Many of these groups are administering this funding, have set themselves up as little warlords and are not accountable to anybody. That is the one weakness of the Minister's Department and that of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív. We saw this in world development. All those warlords have their little offices and are drawing down their salaries but are not doing the job. The job regarding drugs is to get into the communities, take on the problems and try to ensure we can deal with them. What does the Minister propose in that regard in the new strategy?
While I am glad alcohol is included, I do not want it to be the first priority. Drugs must be the first priority. Alcohol already has a high profile. I would not have supported the strategy if it alcohol was included but I want an emphasis on dealing with the drug problem we have. We have an epidemic. Today's figures might indicate a reduction in certain categories, but in every corner of this country, rural and cities, there is a serious drug problem. People are pushing drugs on young children aged ten and 11. We need to get to the bottom of it and do something about it. It is a cancer in society eating away at our communities and our country.
I will comment on some of the points made by Deputy Ring. Each Department is responsible for its area and there are Accounting Officers and so forth. The strategy has specific recommendations and actions assigned to different responsible Departments. There will be an oversight committee reviewing and assessing the progress on an ongoing basis in order that we can see what's being achieved.
The new structures we have put in place, merging the functions of the old national drugs strategy team and the drugs strategy unit in the Department allow us to examine more closely the issue of projects and programmes around the country and what they are doing, to which Deputy Ring referred. There is a direct line of communications directly from the new office of the Minister with responsibility for drugs to the task force and the projects that was not in place before. We are responding to issues that the Committee of Public Accounts would have raised from the perspective of good governance and accountability.
Sometimes when I speak people think it is about following the money. It is not. The money is not the key issue. We must follow the outcomes. Are these programmes delivering what they are supposed to? I am not suggesting the money is not being spent. I am very focused. It is not about value for money but outcomes. Are they delivering the benefits they were established to deliver? I share Deputy Ring's concerns about some of these projects around the country, but the new structures will allow us to examine those in a way we have not been able to heretofore. Dealing with the drugs issue requires partnership. The HSE might have a lead role in respect of certain pillars whereas the Garda Síochána will have it in others, such as supply reduction.
The new strategy does something which did not happen before. It allows the Minister of the day to hold regular, structured meetings with the other line Ministers who have responsibility such as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister for Health and Children. The strategy will be published at the beginning of September and the first of these meetings, with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Education and Science, are provisionally booked from the beginning of September. The former system was more ad hoc but there is a structure to the new strategy.
Deputy Ring mentioned an issue which came up during the consultation process. I am not publishing the strategy today but I do not mind discussing the issue. There is a specific provision in the new strategy to deal with driving under the influence of drugs. It may require legislation to introduce things such as random drug testing but there will be specific actions to deal with supply reduction. The issue may not have been dealt with heretofore but there is a commitment in the new strategy to do so.
The Deputy also mentioned waiting lists, which vary significantly around the country. The Department is working very closely with the HSE on the capital side to see if we can fast-track a number of initiatives in cases where there are long waiting lists, particularly for methadone treatment. We hope to provide a service in five or six new locations before the end of the year. The structure of the new office allows direct contact between one central agency and another for that purpose.
I thank the Minister of State for his presentation. There are a lot of positive ideas in the report and it is well structured but I want to see these ideas delivered on.
I have taken a keen interest in integration but the Minister of State has answered a question on that point. I welcome the inclusion of alcohol in the strategy. Alcohol has been under-recognised in the past and there has been a certain tolerance of it, but I believe it is an important issue. I feel strongly about a few areas, one of which is family support services. Unless drugs are dealt with at family level we will go nowhere. We will put a lot of money and effort in but will end up only going around in circles.
Deputy Ring referred to children of eight, nine and ten years being offered drugs and I have been told of children in areas I know well being used as runners, which engages them in the process of drug dealing at a young age. They are in an environment which makes them very vulnerable and their level of educational attainment is often poor. To address this, the various services must be brought together, including the educational welfare board, the Department of Education and Science and the schools. We put in a lot of effort but the children to whom I refer go home to a dysfunctional family environment. Unless drug problems are addressed at that level we will waste a great deal time and money. We have to invest money but the problem will recur unless the family system is taken on board. We also have the drugs courts. That was a good idea but the outcome has been poor; around 17% of those who engaged with the drugs courts have had a positive outcome, while 83% have dropped out, according to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. What is wrong with the drugs courts? Has there been any plan to increase the input into them, realign them or to introduce different services? I recently have been reading some material from the United Kingdom, where there is also a drugs court; however, a slightly different emphasis has been put on it. It will, for example, make a drug addict responsible for how he or she manages his or her children. There are many key workers and there is one-to-one support. I ask the Minister to consider an alternative to the drugs courts. It seems like a good idea but it has not worked.
There is a major problem with drugs in prisons and it seems we have failed in terms of how drugs in prisons are being managed and handled. There is certainly scope for improvement. I appreciate there is a specific problem within prisons and it is not simple, but it needs to be addressed. There are practical things that can be done that would certainly help to improve the situation.
There is one final point to make, which the Minister of State has also mentioned. According to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, there has been great progress in the delivery of planned actions by various agencies. They set out a good agenda; however, this must be supplemented with programme achievement. That is the comment of the Comptroller and Auditor General. One can set out a wonderful plan, but do we have targets and do we measure the outcome at the end? Do we look back and say one thing worked and another thing did not, and if something did work, we should do more of it? It is not good enough to set out a programme and then go away and forget it, never following through on the targets.
I thank the Minister of State for his presentation.
Deputy Ring mentioned a matter on which I have commented before; namely, drugs and driving. Although the Department of Transport and the Road Safety Authority deal with road traffic accidents and so on, there is a need for urgent liaison between the Minister's Department and the RSA with regard to the introduction of an acceptable drugs testing device such as is in use in Australia and other places. It is incumbent upon us to ensure we get such a scheme into operation quickly. Statistically, there are fatalities and serious accidents caused by people using drugs while driving, and we must get a scheme in operation as quickly as possible.
I am thankful my constituency does not have the serious problems experienced in those of, for example, Deputies Cyprian Brady and Upton. However, the use of drugs socially by middle-class users is a serious problem. Quite often one will come across constituents who tell one that middle-class people are using drugs at a particular disco or up-market pub, although I have never seen this myself and do not particularly want to. We must expose those people and perhaps even educate them by telling them through advertising that they are contributing to the funds of the gangland drug barons. People may think it is very nice on a Saturday night to engage in recreational drug-taking but not only are they risking their own health, they are also contributing significantly to funding the drug barons. The Minister of State might consider some form of advertisement to let people know they are partly responsible for gangland crime. The new laws are welcome and I hope we will see results soon.
Last night there was a programme on RTE about the Rutland Centre which deals with addicts on drugs and drink; I do not know whether the members of the delegation saw it. What level of liaison does the delegation have with such centres? Clearly, they have very experienced individuals who deal with those undergoing treatment. Obviously, participation in the treatment is voluntary and one must pay a fee but such persons have a good deal of information on how one deals with the drugs issue, in particular, and how to turn people away from them and get them back on the straight and narrow.
I refer to the pharmacy dispute, during which methadone was not dispensed by pharmacies in the immediate area of Swords and its environs. Methadone is often dispensed in a casual manner and people who walk into pharmacies are not aware this is the case. I know of one pharmacy in which 100 people receive methadone. They enter with anyone's knowledge, receive their methadone and then leave. When the pharmacy dispute came to a head last year, all of the methadone was distributed from St. Ita's Hospital, Portrane. One may believe this is fine because it is a HSE building, but the problem is that there is no regular bus service to Portrane and the majority of the 100 people affected went there on the one bus. Unfortunately, when 100 people congregate in one spot, problems can occur. Will the delegation liaise with someone to address this issue? I hope the same problem will not arise again because other pharmacies in the area will dispense methadone. However, forcing the issue and having that many people in one place at one time is not good for them as individuals, nor is it good for the system. I wish to alert the delegation to the matter in case it can bring some influence to bear.
I welcome the Minister of State. On 31 March the Government approved the national drugs strategy for 2009 and 2010 but a delay followed until 16 June. What was the reason for the delay? It was inordinate, given that there was Cabinet approval from 31 March. Addressing problems with alcohol has been included which I welcome and which we advocated at this committee and in the Seanad. It is time we got real. There is a combined substance misuse problem and I do not agree alcohol abuse needs to be tackled in isolation. It is the gateway drug for young people, to which we have turned a blind eye. As a society we must stand up and tackle the issue or we will pay the cost that will be great for decades and generations to come. There is polydrug use.
We have received a great report from the delegation, the members of which have been very accessible. However, the rhetoric and the commitment given on paper must be matched by resources. One can talk about being in recession and constrained financial circumstances, but I refer to the Minister of State's remarks. He makes reference to education and the excellent work being done in schools. Let us consider two aspects of education. According to figures and anecdotal data, young people in the lower classes such as those taking the leaving certificate applied programme are more prone to using drugs. However, the Government is cutting the funding allocated to the programme and education in general, one example of a dichotomy between the Minister of State and the Government. The Minister of State is genuinely committed to this, but we have service level agreements with the HSE. Funding for treatment centres, youth projects and drug facilities is being cut. How can the Minister of State match his rhetoric with the cut in funding?
In addition, there was a very good PR campaign offensive last year, "The Party's Over". The Minister of State and Deputy Ring were correct when they said we are not targeting, focusing on and hitting the under-35 age group. Deputy Kennedy referred to it a few moments ago. There is a group of people who are middle class and well-to-do who think that using drugs is cool, fashionable and acceptable. I know of two people who, last Saturday night, left a number of pubs in Cork city because they witnessed people consuming drugs. Are we allowing a minority in society to dictate to the majority?
The Minister of State made no reference to what we will do with city council or county council tenants in council estates who are selling drugs or who, as Deputy Upton correctly said, are using young people as a conduit to supply drugs. In addition, private rented accommodation is provided by landlords who have abdicated responsibility regarding tenants who use houses for drugs. We saw it this week in the excellent television programme on customs regarding tobacco. In terms of the publication of the report, I want the Government to talk to local authorities and the PRTB, and take on the landlords and tenants in council estates who are not being held accountable.
The Minister of State spoke about the Garda and made reference in his remarks to local policing fora. I am a member of the Cork city policing forum. We had a wonderful presentation two weeks ago from the Garda and health professionals. There is a waiting list to go into Arbour House in Cork. The Minister of State came in here this morning and spoke about fast-tracking detox beds. We have a report on detox beds that has painted a picture that was not addressed in the previous drugs strategy.
The Minister of State referred to the five-tier model. He should look at tier four, in terms of rehab and detox. Are we serious about it or are we just playing to the gallery? I wonder about it at times, because if we are taking a proper approach we have to, as Deputy Ring said, take the whole issue of detox, rehabilitation beds and placements in treatment centres and examine it in the context of working from the cities outward. We have not done this.
The Minister of State referred to structures. Dr. McCarthy calls for the abolition of the whole department. Perhaps he is correct; I do not know. When the Minister of State talks about the new office of the Minister for drugs, does he think it should come under the Department of Health and Children? Where does he see it located within it?
Delivery is critical and there needs to be accountability. We have had no joined up thinking between all the different agencies in the past five years. Nobody is accountable. In terms of the new report, will a review mechanism be put in place? When will that kick in? What evaluation methodology will be have, in terms of outcomes and inputs of money?
Deputy Upton referred to the courts. Have we ever asked people in the justice system about the message we are sending through lenient sentencing and not being consistent with the sentences handed down? We need to send a strong message through the courts that we cannot and will not tolerate the use and sale of drugs. Rightly or wrongly, I do not blame the man on the ground who is a victim in any case. There are drug barons running amok who have opulent, affluent lifestyles that we cannot even dream about.
I compliment the Irish Examiner which published a very good series of articles on drugs in recent months. There was one in last week’s health supplement about prescription drugs. Does the national drugs strategy cover that issue? I thank the Minister of State for coming. I believe he is genuine.
In Cork city there are one or two level 2 trained GPs to deal with the drugs issue. That is appalling. It is an indictment of our priorities. What are the plans for the Cork region?
Five members are waiting to ask questions, Deputies Michael P. Kitt, Cyprian Brady, Wall, O'Mahony and Mary White. I will continue to take contributions. I am sure that the Minister of State will be able to answer some of them in groups.
I welcome the Minister of State and the strategy. I am glad that alcohol is included in the strategy. Many of the issues I will raise do not concern the Minister of State but the HSE and the former health boards because they did not give alcohol a high enough priority. I could cite many examples of that from my constituency. The main example is an alcohol treatment centre in St. Brigid's Hospital in Ballinasloe where there was a residential section. It is a sad that in several areas residential units have closed. Sometimes a person has to be taken out of his or her environment even for a short period.
That point was clearly made in a programme about the Rutland Centre aired last night. It was an excellent, very moving programme about people in a residential setting. At the end of the programme we saw that two of the people left the centre too early. When we see the second part of the programme we will probably learn more about them. The HSE says that it has put in extra addiction counsellors. It closes a unit and employs counsellors but one wonders where they are. It is much more practical for a person to know where the centre and the unit are and to go directly there. That is how it should happen.
For those with private health insurance there are private centres but people who want to go to the public ones do not have that option. That access is a serious issue in rural areas. I have been in politics a long time but the biggest public meeting I ever attended was five years ago when the health board decided to do away with the residential unit in the Ballinasloe centre. That was sad. I would like the Minister of State to take it up because I have lost the battle with the HSE. It is time to go back to basics and examine the practical things we can do for people with addiction problems.
Support for the families was mentioned on the programme last night as some families even confronted those members with addiction problems. What is the Department's involvement with the Rutland Centre or the families of those with addiction problems? I know that the Minister of State has a great interest in, and commitment to, this area. We have lost the battle with the HSE and will not get feedback from it on issues such as the residential units and the absence of public facilities although there are private ones which are covered by insurance. If extra addiction counsellors are being appointed we should find out where they are.
I am delighted to see the Minister of State here. We all welcome the fact that alcohol is included in the new strategy. I would definitely approve if alcohol advertising were banned in sports places.
One thing that has not been raised here is the supply of drugs to the rural areas from the Dublin area. After Dublin, Carlow has the second biggest problem with heroin. According to the Garda Síochána that is because of our spanking brand new road, the N9, which people can use to whizz down from Dublin, drop off the drugs and whizz back again. It is terrible that a town like Carlow should have the second highest statistics for heroin. It is very easy to criticise any Government, not just this one. There are so many strands involved in this. There is health, education, Garda enforcement, parenting, social life. All those strands have to be knitted into this extremely complex problem. Senator Buttimer might like to be reminded that when the rainbow coalition was in power at a time of plenty it cut teacher numbers and we had the highest class sizes in Europe.
The pain must be hurting on the ground.
I am on top of my brief. I am tracking Fine Gael's progress.
I would like to know how the Department is going to feed into the juvenile liaison scheme and also how it is envisaged the new strategy with a role for the local policing fora will operate. We do not want to encourage vigilantism.
I have been told by taxi drivers that much dealing goes on behind the tinted windows. Perhaps some gardaí should switch places with the driver.
It is very useful to the meeting that members bring their own experiences in their constituencies and their personal interests in this area. We are moving now to Kildare with Deputy Wall and then Deputy Cyprian Brady.
I welcome the Minister of State and his officials. I believe he has the determination to make this programme work. I listened with interest to Deputy Michael P. Kitt speak about residential programmes in his area. In Athy, where Cuan Mhuire is located, one sees what residential programmes are about in that there is a garden centre, a sports centre, all types of recreational facilities as well as facilities for people to use their hands, computers and so on. As well as being cured, they are focused on being able to do something as part of the programme. That is a vital aspect. I visited Cuan Mhuire on numerous occasions. It is amazing to go through it and talk to the people there and see the hope they have because not alone are they going through the programme of recovery but also, because of the training they receive, they will be able to do something when they emerge from the programme. It is a positive structure that has benefited thousands of people. One would be amazed by the numbers who have stayed with the programmes after they have been cured. They go on a daily basis to meetings and are now out working in the community. If that is what Deputy Kitt was talking about, it is something with which I agree.
In regard to the Walk Tall and the Social, Personal and Health Education programmes, I hope that as part of the new strategy they will be revamped and come to the fore again. It is highlighted in the presentation that these have been very positive. The Minister of State is probably right and has the information to back up his statement. I still believe there is a need to revamp those programmes and move them forward with the new strategy. They will be of major significance in terms of schools which are targeted by drug barons.
I am disappointed that one of the five pillars does not include education on the misuse of drugs. It would be important to use the word "education" in respect of one of the pillars. I ask that the headings of the five pillars be examined with a view to including a reference to education and the misuse of drugs. It is important that we attempt to educate people on the misuse of drugs and this may result in parents reflecting on the details.
A number of members have spoken about drug barons who are in receipt of social welfare payments. I see that on a regular basis. In this regard the local social welfare system is not good enough to deal with this issue because these are thugs. It is difficult to see the ordinary social welfare system working there. There should be a hit spot as in some other areas that is taken out of the local scene where the information would be fed in and somebody would come and examine the applications. They are driving up in big cars and everyone in the area knows what is happening. The Garda has to be lucky on only one occasion to make a hit with the people concerned. There is a need to do something in this regard. If it does nothing else, it will break the system. I hope there will then be a change in attitude. It is a difficult issue for the Garda because most of its stations are not geared for this work and may only have a Garda on drugs duty for three months or six months. In the overall context, the Garda find it difficult to track these individuals despite the fact that it is doing all it possibly can.
I am pleased to note that alcohol is included in the strategy. The Minister of State may be fed up listening to me speak about sports organisations but another aspect of alcohol it that it is used by victorious teams at presentations, etc. This does not do either the association or the youngsters any good because alcohol is a gateway to drug exploration. Sports organisations have a responsibility to do something in this area. Hopefully when that aspect is included we will deal with it.
I will be as brief as possible. I welcome the progress made with the strategy. It is widely accepted that huge progress was made during the past seven or eight years of the previous strategy. A major role is to be played by the local policing fora in conjunction with the local drug taskforces. There is huge interaction in that area specifically in the north inner city. The statutory agencies, the Garda, the local authorities and community representatives interact on a regular basis. Out of this has grown a number of programmes, one of which is the "Dial to stop dealing" project, which came about through a local task force through a community policing forum. Within the Garda Síochána there is a change of emphasis in regard to community policing. As a member of Dublin City policing committee, there is an opportunity for the new office to become more involved with the policing fora.
There has been a call at local level to the Criminal Assets Bureau for the reinvestment of the proceeds of those assets back into communities that have suffered as a result of drug dealing. Particularly in the present economic climate, there is an opportunity to revisit that issue in the context of supporting the different strands of the strategy and particularly the local drugs task forces.
In the presentation there was a reference to methadone. I query again whether enough is being done to examine the effects of the long-term use of methadone. Of the 8,500 people currently on methadone, how many of those are over 30 or 40 and what is their physical condition? I very much welcome that there is now a possibility of examining alternative methods, not just of substitute treatment but other methods of treatment.
On the Office of the Minister for Drugs, I very much welcome the centralising and streamlining of the structures to ensure a more effective delivery of services on the ground. However, I would caution against the loss of the local knowledge and input of people who are working directly with addicts and their families. That is crucial and it comes back to the issue of family support. If there is a centralising of the service account must be taken of the information and knowledge available on the ground, not just in the major cities. It is in small villages also. As members mentioned, people in the smaller towns and villages where there is an issue with drugs are more aware of the problem and that must be borne in mind in terms of any changes that are made. I welcome the fact that we are moving on with a new strategy and look forward next year to the inclusion of alcohol in that strategy.
I will try not to address areas already covered but instead focus on the strategy the Minister of State outlined and the spread of drugs geographically. My interest would be rural areas. As many speakers have said, drugs have spread into the towns and villages and the difficulty rural communities have is that the problem is different in that it is a very public problem. There is a lack of services currently and I ask the Minister of State to outline the way his strategy will take account of the fact that this is happening because parents and everyone involved feel very isolated.
The Minister of State mentioned also that a partnership approach will be taken based on statutory, community and voluntary sectors. I am aware that the GAA has substance abuse officers at the various stages. Is it the Minister of State's intention to have those officers in community or other sporting organisations? Is that what he meant when he said it will be based on the community and voluntary sectors or will he make use in some way of the existing structures, particularly those that are effective in rural areas, and that might be a vehicle for him to achieve solutions?
In terms of bringing to justice people involved in the drugs trade, there is a drug squad in Mayo, for instance, but in respect of prevention and rehabilitation, I have seen at first hand how the juvenile liaison scheme and the Garda diversion programme provide wonderful value for money in keeping people out of prison and on the straight and narrow. I hope there would be even greater investment in these initiatives because money would be saved in the long run as a result of the great work they do.
I want to raise two final issues. Harristown House in Castlerea was doing wonderful work but its funding was withdrawn. I am not here to make political points on that issue but what is the latest information? That is something that was provided under the old strategy. Will that funding be restored? What is the up to date position?
Deputy Ring and others referred to drug barons running around the country, opulent lifestyles and so on. Such persons are sometimes brought to court and one finds it confusing that they have access to free legal aid. While that might not be an issue for this meeting, it is an issue for ordinary people. How can it be squared that such persons can have an opulent lifestyle and still have access to free legal aid at a cost borne by the taxpayer? Such money could be used to much better purpose to provide some of the services we have discussed.
I compliment the Minister of State and his team on their proactive commitment to beat the illegal drugs scourge. The comments I wish to make relate mainly to prevention. The recent big drug seizures by the Garda were particularly important not only in saving many people from a terrible way of life but in sending out a message that crime does not pay, and it certainly should not pay where this type of activity is concerned.
There is a good degree of co-operation in this area between the Garda and security forces in other countries but I wonder if it is necessary to formalise such arrangements. Perhaps we could be more proactive not only in sharing information, which is particularly important in identifying the sources of the drug trade, but in identifying the movement of people, etc., which would be helpful.
Senator Buttimer referred to alcohol abuse as being the gateway to other drugs. I would generalise in that regard, but the Deputy is right about that being true in some cases. The gloss has gone off the appeal of alcohol at this point in time. For too long we were prepared to be jocose about it. It was often the stock in trade of many a comedian without thinking about the terrible damage individuals, families and society have suffered through alcohol abuse.
I wish to take up Deputy Wall's point on alcohol sponsorship, particularly of events. If the State could engage with these organisations, identify the amount of money involved in such sponsorship and in some way compensate those organisations to enable them get out of that vicious circle, that would deal a major blow to the glorification of alcohol.
I pose the question as to whether alcohol advertising should not be banned. We took that step with tobacco, which was met with outcries from some groups. There was an outcry to the introduction of legislation dealing with the smoking of tobacco products in public places and the constraints that would put on people. However, we now accept that change because we realise the importance of it given that tobacco is injurious to health. If we accept that alcohol is also injurious to health, as we now do as that is stated in the strategy, although it took a while for us to come to that conclusion, then there is no reason alcohol advertising should continue to be allowed. It definitely glorifies the use of alcohol and it has an influence on young people in particular. I suggest such a proposal might be examined. From the figures we have seen, it appears that there has been an increase rather than a decrease in the level of alcohol consumption across all social sections of society and in all geographic locations throughout the country. That suggests we are dealing with an epidemic in that respect. Prevention and education could be used to address this.
I find it difficult to accept that manner in which some people in the entertainment industry, in particular, can make very light of their drug taking. The people concerned are role models for many of our young people. They are iconic figures and very important in society, about which there is no question. If we could, in some way, convince them to show themselves as being anti-drugs, that would also be influential. There have been cases where people in the entertainment world have spoken out. Last week I read about two cases where people have publicly stated drugs had ruined their lives. There should be some way in the strategy to ensure they are brought more centre stage and that we proactively ask them to become ambassadors for an anti-drug taking campaign. That would be more successful and influential than all the advertising we might to. I recommend that to the Minister of State and his team.
I thank Senator Ó Murchú and other members for their questions. A broad range of views and comments have been put forward but there is much common ground. There is a great wealth of knowledge here based on people's experience of what is happening on the ground in regard to the strategy. Will the Minister of State do his best to bring this together? I know he will be able to do so.
I thank members for the comments and questions. As some of them overlap, rather than go through them individually, I will try to bring as many of them as possible together in some sort of order.
Senator Buttimer referred to the timeline for the strategy. I do not want there to be any confusion. It would have been desirable if we had a strategy on 1 January 2009. That was not possible. I could have ploughed ahead with it but because a decision had not been made in regard to alcohol, I was not comfortable. I needed to bring that issue to a clear resolution because members of this committee and the people at the public consultations clearly favoured its inclusion. However, it was not unanimous. There were other vested interests who were opposed to the idea of having a joint strategy. That took some time.
The Government only made the decision that there would be a joint strategy on 31 March. Following this, the current strategy, the alcohol strategy, had to be completed, recognising the decision made on 31 March. On 16 June, the strategy was presented to Cabinet. Prior to that date, I had to attend a Cabinet sub-committee meeting to outline what was involved. The Government made a decision on 16 June and the advisory steering group was informed of that decision.
The question of when we would publish the strategy arose at one of the meetings. That was at the end of June. People on the community side, in particular, asked that we would not publish it during the August holidays because they would like to be around for it. Hence, we will publish the document in September.
The delay centred on the inclusion of alcohol. The strategy is late but I would prefer to have it right than early. I am not apologising but I am explaining the background. We have made the right decisions even if it has taken us a bit longer to get there.
Many members mentioned family support services. I fully endorse those comments. All the evidence suggests somebody in treatment benefits far more with the support of a supporting family. Before the person goes into treatment, the family need the supports because the person is living a chaotic lifestyle and so forth. I wholeheartedly endorse all those comments. The family support networks are clearly recognised in the strategy.
Deputy Upton talked about young children delivering drugs, an issue with which those of us from Dublin have become aware in our constituency offices. It is a specific action in the new strategy and an issue for the Garda to tackle.
Who will monitor the strategy because it runs to 2016? An oversight committee is being established to review on an ongoing basis, not every three or five years, the progress being made on the specific actions outlined. They are relevant to different Departments. That is the key to the strategy. There is no use having a strategy running to 2016 if we do not measure the progress being made in a timely and on year-by-year basis rather than saying after three years that not much has been done or asking where are the sticking blocks or the problems. It will be done on a continual basis over the lifetime of the strategy.
Like Deputy Ring, Deputy Kennedy referred to driving and drug testing. As stated, that is a specific action. Legislation may be required but that will be one of the issues being specifically pursued as part of the strategy.
Will it be pursued by the Minister of State's Department rather than the Department of Transport?
No, it will be the Department of Transport. Many of the actions to which the strategy refers are proper to the Departments of Health and Children, Education and Science and Transport. The office of the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy will oversee that strategy and bring its constituent parts together. As a result, my Department does not have a direct role in respect of the matter to which Deputy Kennedy refers. The Department of Transport holds the specific role in this regard and it will operate in conjunction with the Road Safety Authority, etc.
The Deputy also referred to people who live in middle class areas and who engage in drug taking, and the need for an advertising campaign. I do not fully agree with him in respect of this matter. This matter requires further serious consideration and I am engaged in this regard at present. Deputy Wall referred to sports people endorsing the strategy and becoming role models. I am of the view that more than just an advertising campaign is required. There is a need to launch an awareness campaign that will be in place for an extended period. Placing an advertisement for a month or whatever, will not prove sufficient. I do not have the answer in this regard. However, now that the strategy is in place, I finally have an opportunity to make progress.
Deputy O'Mahony also touched upon this matter in the context of the GAA. We must consider how we might create a proper awareness campaign which will target not just at-risk groups but also society in general and which will also change attitudes. We have changed people's attitudes over a five or ten-year period in respect of drink driving. Recent newspaper reports indicated that fewer people who are stopped and breath tested are providing positive results than was the case a number of years ago. If the committee has any specific recommendations in respect of such an awareness campaign, I would be open to them. A sustained awareness campaign would be required in respect of the issue to which the Deputies refer.
A number of members referred to the Rutland Centre, Cuan Mhuire — which I visited — and other facilities, which provide a major service. The real issue is that until now Hope House, Cuan Mhuire, Tabor Lodge, Aiseirí, the Aisling Centre, etc., have in many ways been operating in isolation and outside the national drugs strategy. I have brought them firmly to the centre of the strategy. I have initiated a direct procedure with the HSE and the voluntary residential rehabilitation providers to which members referred which is aimed at putting a framework in place in order that we might know what everyone is doing, where resources are being invested and so forth.
Reference was made to counselling. There are two points I would make in that regard. Residential rehabilitation is only one block of the strategy. Before a person enters rehabilitation, he or she must be prepared and must be ready for what he or she is going to face. More importantly, however, when they re-enter society, people who undergo periods in residential rehabilitation require community-based supports for a year or two. In the absence of such supports, the probability of relapse is extremely high. A package of measures is, therefore, required. We have engaged with those in the voluntary sector to try to bring them firmly back to the centre. In my view, the people concerned were somewhat on the outside in the past. However, they are quite enthusiastic with regard to playing a meaningful role.
Questions were raised in respect of how the strategy will proceed, particularly as we are living in harsh economic times and there is less money available. Funding is important and we are spending a great deal of money. However, the real challenge relates to how we might do things differently but still spend only what we are currently spending in respect of obtaining effective outcomes. Another aspect is the need to promote joined-up thinking between the different players and the relevant Departments. Senator Buttimer referred to Tabor Lodge, which I am trying to assist in the current year in the context of improving its services. The Department is working in conjunction with the HSE in order to try to assist facilities such as Tabor Lodge.
The structure relating to the new strategy is quite important. The establishment of the office of the Minister of State with responsibility for drugs strategy allows for very clear lines between individual projects by means of a task force and the office of the Minister of State. It also allows that where issues arise, the Minister of State has direct access to Ministers and Secretaries General of other Departments on a regular and structured basis in order to tease out the problems that arise from time to time in order to try and advance them. Those meetings with Ministers will happen maybe twice a year, in spring and autumn and there are similar meetings with the Accounting Officers.
The structure of the new strategy is also important because it allows us to move things on that previously would not have been given priority within the Department. I understand that in a big Department the issue of the drugs strategy is not the biggest issue. However, the office of the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy is able to push that agenda in a regular and structured way in order to achieve the desired results. This is very important and a lot of thought went into the structures area. There is always a degree of concern and resistance to change. Six months ago we could not have done what we are doing now. The new structures have allowed us to do things now. Six months ago I do not think we would have been in a position to organise and chair the meeting with the voluntary sector and the HSE as it would not have happened. Now we can initiate processes. The real initiative in the new structure is to marry the bottom-up approach with initiatives from the top down. It is not a case of all top down or bottom-up but it is a case of doing both. Under the old structure it was quite difficult to take a top down approach. Some of the initiatives such as an awareness campaign, are national issues and must be from the top down if they are to be effective.
Deputy O'Mahony has left the meeting but in reply to his question, Harristown was closed on the recommendation of the directors and the board themselves. I do not have the details to hand but I understand there is a report either to go to or has already been sent to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and this will decide its future in the coming months.
On the question about the numbers on methadone, there is a clear programme. Studies have shown that when people go on methadone, their quality of life improves and the improvement is under different headings as well as under health. For instance, somebody involved with heroin would have had a chaotic lifestyle and would have other issues such as housing. A person stabilised on methadone sees an improvement in his or her quality of life. I have made this point on other occasions and I have asked for advice and direction that we need to have a clear progression route so that a drugs-free lifestyle is achievable for some people. This is being examined.
Deputy Wall asked about education. While education is not a pillar per se, but prevention is a pillar and education is the main component of that pillar and it perhaps a question of headings. On the Walk Tall programme and SPHE, all the advice is that the programme content is good but because it is a different subject for teachers to teach the outcomes might be different. There may be a question of the need for professional development courses for the teachers giving that course and this will be examined. The content of SPHE seems to be quite good.
Deputy Cyprian Brady asked about the place of local knowledge. I agree that local knowledge is very important and this is the reason the structures of the task forces were maintained because we recognised the importance of local knowledge and the partnership approach that applied in advance of the community sector and the voluntary sector. The issues raised by the Deputies today, from treatment, supply reduction, education, highlight the number of partners needed both nationally and locally and local knowledge is important and will be retained under the new strategy.
I ask the Minister of State to get back to me about the unit in St. Brigid's Hospital, Ballinasloe, to which I referred.
I concur with the Minister of State on the issue of high profile and middle class people who use drugs. Information campaigns telling them not to use drugs are not needed. My proposal, one which will not be acted on because there are two laws in this country, one for the poor people living in working class areas and one for the rich, is that undercover gardaí should be able to enter premises where parties are taking place. We need a few high powered prosecutions. Despite considerable media coverage of a particular case last year, no one appears to have been prosecuted. Middle class, well heeled people who use drugs at parties should be prosecuted because they feed into the drug world.
Michael Jackson died recently as a result of using prescribed drugs. It is a pity his death was not used to illustrate what happens when people take prescribed drugs. If his body had been in good shape photographs would have appeared in the media. I was surprised that media organisations did not seek to view the singer's body. The story of his death received extensive coverage on RTE, Sky and other channels on the night it occurred and in the following days. While he was a wonderful entertainer, the media overlooked what happened and did not ask to see his body. I note from media reports yesterday that some of those who rushed to the scene when the emergency call was made did not recognise Mr. Jackson and thought he was an old man. It is a pity his death could not be used to show young people how one ends up if one continues to use prescribed or other types of drugs.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials for coming before the joint committee which has done significant work in this area. The committee's role is to monitor the work of the Department. It did much work on the issue of drugs before I became Chairman. The Minister of State has shared important information with us today. I am confident he will take on board the broad thrust of the contributions made by members and that this will add value to the important work he will do in the coming months. The Minister of State discussed many important issues. The proposals offered by the joint committee will be of great assistance to him in his effort to get this matter right.
The Minister of State alluded to advertising and raising awareness. He will give much thought to having an effective awareness campaign, which will be crucial. Several members referred to an RTE television programme broadcast last night on the Rutland Centre. We express gratitude to those who participated in the programme, specifically the person addicted to cocaine and the person addicted to heroin. In my experience, the most effective way to raise awareness is through the human story.
The programme in question will appeal to a certain audience whereas the Minister of State wants to reach many audiences. He referred to raising awareness in the community, in schools and among families. He will have taken on board the contributions of members who wish him well in his important work. We are available to assist and advise him and, where appropriate, ask questions in the coming months.