“That Seanad Éireann:
- individuals, families and communities throughout the country have been devastated by illegal drugs;
- drug-related harm consistently clusters in communities marked by poverty and social inequality;
- drug-related deaths in Ireland are at the highest figure ever, increasing from 431 in 2004 to 736 in 2016;
- new drugs appear regularly on the illicit market while familiar drugs such as cannabis are becoming more potent;
- too many people are living daily with the nightmare of drug-related intimidation and violence;
- the significant increase in drugs offences recorded by an Garda Síochána;
- the increase in the value of drug seizures from €29,706,281 in 2016 to €71,859,695 in 2017;
- not all drug users are addicts and there has been a significant rise in casual and occasional drug use;
- a changing pattern of drug use during the recent economic recovery;
- the latest drug treatment figures from the Health Research Board show a 50% increase in the number of cases presenting for cocaine treatment between 2017 and 2018;
- in 2018, a total of 10,274 cases were treated for problem drug use;
- the number of new entrants to treatment increased from 3,272 in 2012 to 3,962 in 2018;
- Ireland is one of six European countries where crack cocaine abuse has increased in the past five years;
- every cent spent on illegal drugs funds organised crime;
- the reduction in the number of Gardaí assigned to drug units;
- the importance of a public health approach to drug and alcohol misuse is paramount;
- there is widespread concern that the partnership approach, which has been at the heart of drugs strategies since 1996, is now in danger of collapse;
- community participation and interagency working is crucial to an effective response to an increasingly complex and challenging drugs problem;
- there is apprehension and frustration at the failure of Government to meet commitments on community involvement;
- investment in drugs task forces has stagnated in recent years with an increase of 1.7 per cent since 2015 compared to 28 per cent in overall health expenditure;
- there is a need for comprehensive services in prevention, detoxification treatment and rehabilitation;
and calls for:
- the Government to act as a matter of urgency to restore confidence in the National Drugs Strategy;
- An Taoiseach to appoint representation at a senior level from his own Department to the National Oversight Committee of the National Drugs Strategy;
- an increase in the level of funding for drugs task forces and treatment services;
- action to be taken against open drug dealing on city streets;
- the strengthening of criminal law against the use of children in drug trafficking;
- increased investment in the Juvenile Diversion Programme; and
- a major education and information campaign to be undertaken on casual drug use.”
We are all aware that the drug crisis in Ireland has reached epidemic proportions. Individuals, families and communities throughout the country have been devastated by illegal drugs. Drug-related harm consistently clusters around communities marked by poverty and social inequality. There have been many drug-related deaths in recent years, with the number rising from 431 in 2004 to 736 in 2016. New drugs appear on the market regularly while familiar drugs such as cannabis are becoming more potent. On a day-to-day basis, too many people and families across in rural and urban settings are living with the nightmare of drug-related intimidation and violence. Garda figures show that there has been a huge increase in drug-related offences across the country but also, thankfully, in the number of drug seizures. For example, more than €29 million worth of drugs were seized in 2016 and €71 million worth were seized in 2017. This is a huge and vast amount of money that funds crime.
Not all people who use drugs are addicts but there has been a significant rise in occasional drug use. This is a very worrying trend because it often goes hand in hand with psychiatric illness. Even drugs such as cannabis that are not considered potent by some people - I disagree because I believe it is very potent - have serious psychiatric manifestations and can cause psychosis and paranoia. There has been a changing pattern of drug use during the recent economic recovery. The latest drug treatment figures from the Health Research Board show a 50% increase in the number of cases presenting for cocaine between 2017 and 2018. Last year, a total of 10,274 people were treated for problem drug use. The number of new entrants to treatment increased to more than 4,000 in 2018. Ireland is one of six countries where crack cocaine abuse has increased in the past five years.
We can never allow ourselves to forget that every cent spent on illegal drugs goes to fund organised crime. There has been a reduction in the number of gardaí assigned to the drugs unit. The Government needs to look at this and redirect resources into the sector. We need a top-down and bottom-up approach to tackle the scourge of drug abuse in Ireland. The importance of a public health approach is paramount. There is widespread concern that the partnership approach at the heart of drug strategies since 1996 is now in danger of collapse. Community participation and inter-agency working is crucial for an effective response to increasingly complex and challenging drug problems. There is apprehension and frustration at the failure of Government to meet community involvement at community level. Investment in drug task forces has stagnated in recent years, with an increase of 1.7% since 2015 compared with 28% in overall health expenditure. There is also a need for comprehensive services in prevention, detoxification and rehabilitation.
The Government needs to take this problem seriously and it must act as a matter of urgency in order to restore confidence in the national drugs strategy. My colleague, Deputy Curran, has called on the Taoiseach to appoint senior-level representatives from his Department to the national oversight committee relating the national drugs strategy. We need to increase the level of funding for drug task forces and treatment services. We need to take action with community policing against the open drug dealing that occurs on a day-to-day basis on streets in cities, towns and villages, all of which have been affected by the scourge of drug use.
As legislators, it is our job to strengthen the criminal law against the use of children in drug trafficking. We need increased investment in the juvenile diversion programme and a major educational roll out in schools to highlight the dangers of drug use to children prior to using drugs to highlight the adverse mental health and physical manifestations caused by drugs.
We know it is a complex issue. Not only does it affect the people who take the drugs, it also affects their loved ones and the communities in which they live. Drug abuse is not limited to particular sectors of society. It is both a rural and an urban problem; it knows no class and it crosses all boundaries. Drugs are far too readily available and, sadly, the age at which young people and teenagers start to take drugs is lowering all the time. That is a very worrying trend. The use of young people as runners by drug gangs is frightening. For many people, taking drugs can lead to a lifetime in mental health services. I saw this myself when I worked as a GP and in psychiatry at St. Ita's Hospital in Portrane. I worked too in the mental health sector in Artane and in the accident and emergency department of Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown. I saw on a day-to-day basis the physical and mental manifestations of drug use. These were the so-called benign drugs such as cannabis. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a benign drug.
Drug use leads to anti-social behaviour and to crime, directly and indirectly and more needs to be done. We must tackle our crippling drug problem and we need a major reform in our approach to do that. Sweden is an excellent example of what happens when we take illegal drug use seriously. Drug use in Sweden is just one third of the European average while spending on drug control is three times the EU average. There is a direct correlation between the amount of money spent on drug prevention programmes and the use. For 30 years, Sweden has had consistent and coherent drug-control policies, regardless of which party is in power. It would appear to have adopted a Sláintecare-type approach to the issue with a ten-year strategy so that regardless of which party is in power the policy does not change. There is a strong emphasis on prevention, and extensive treatment and rehabilitation opportunities are available to users. The police in Sweden take drug crime seriously and are adequately funded for this task.
This is a timely motion and I hope it will gain the support of the House.