Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Questions (43)

Liz McManus


153 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of opiate related deaths in Dublin during the past five years; the way in which this compares with the number of deaths from road traffic accidents; the steps he is taking to provide a preventative programme to reduce the level of opiate related deaths; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1883/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

The Central Statistics Office, CSO, compiles the general mortality register's official statistics on direct drug-related deaths each year. The figures on direct opiate related deaths in Dublin from 1997 to 2000 are as follows: 1997, 50; 1998, 50; 1999, 70; 2000, 63.

I am informed by the Department of Transport that road accident fatalities in Dublin from 1999 to 2002 is as follows: 1999, 57; 2000, 69; 2001, 63; 2002, 49. The breakdown of figures for 2003 is not yet available.

At present, drug related deaths are recorded by the general mortality register of the CSO, based on the international classification of diseases, ICD, code system. Other countries have developed dedicated systems for recording drug related deaths and it is important, for the purposes of comparative analysis, that the Irish system is capable of generating an equivalent level of information. It is for this reason that one of the actions contained in the national drugs strategy calls for the development of an accurate mechanism for recording the number of drug related deaths. Overall responsibility for this action rests with the coroner's service and the Central Statistics Office. Work has commenced on progressing this action and my Department is continuing to co-operate with the relevant agencies to establish a mechanism to record accurately the position in relation to drug related deaths.

The overall objective of the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 is to reduce the harm caused to individuals and society by the misuse of drugs through a concerted focus on supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research with the ultimate aim of leading a drug-free lifestyle. The health related aspects of the national drugs strategy focus in particular on education and prevention and treatment and rehabilitation, including substitution treatment under the methadone protocol.

The number of methadone treatment places has expanded considerably in recent years in line with the Government's commitment under the national drugs strategy. At the end of December 2003 there were 7,029 people receiving methadone treatment. This compares with a figure of just more than 5,000 at the end of 2000. In the Eastern Regional Health Authority there are 59 drug treatment locations. This compares with 12 locations in 1997. Outside the ERHA, treatment clinics have been established in the South Eastern Health Board, Mid-Western Health Board, Western Health Board and Midland Health Board. General practitioners and pharmacists also provide treatment services and their involvement has also increased in recent years. The boards aim to address substance misuse by providing effective and sustainable services working in partnership with clients and with fellow service providers. All clients entering the addiction services are assessed and appropriate treatment plans are identified based on client needs. Decisions concerning the appropriate treatment for patients are made in accordance with best practice guidelines.

Overdose prevention is an inherent part of the comprehensive range of services which the boards provide, including education and prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, counselling and harm reduction. International evidence supports the view that opiate users are safer in treatment. Therefore every effort is made to encourage clients to engage in treatment. Outreach workers are provided by the three area health boards of the ERHA and they have a significant role in providing education to opiate misusers who are not currently in treatment on the dangers of overdose.

The national advisory committee on drugs, NACD, has recently published a study on the prevalence of opiate misuse in Ireland. The study estimates that 14,452 people were using heroin in 2001. Of these 12,456 were in the Dublin area. This represents a decrease on a 1996 figure, which estimated that 13,461 people were using heroin in the Greater Dublin area.

Question No. 154 answered with QuestionNo. 143.