Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Questions (45)

John Curran


45. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Health if he will consider implementing a national multi-annual education and awareness campaign on drugs in view of the recent report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28087/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Health)

The Minister of State will be aware that illicit drug use and prevalence is on the increase. It is obvious if one looks at the reports of illegal drug dealing on our streets and, more importantly, if one acknowledges the increased seizures the Garda is making, particularly, as the economy recovers, around the area of cocaine. In light of increased drug prevalence, my question is whether the Government will consider developing and implementing a national multi-annual education and awareness drugs campaign.

The European drug report presents an overview of the drug situation in Europe, covering drug supply, use and public health problems, as well as drug policy and responses. The drug problem across Europe is of great concern, with the growing problem of cocaine use a particular worry.

The national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, is our whole-of-Government, multi-annual response to drug and alcohol use. It commits to dealing with substance use as a public health issue. A specific objective of the strategy is to prevent the use of drugs and alcohol at a young age. Evidence suggests that comprehensive school-based programmes that combine social and personal development and provide information about substance use are more likely to be effective. This is a key component of the new Department of Education and Skills well-being policy statement and framework for practice, which is being implemented on an ongoing basis. In addition, the Department of Education and Skills and the HSE are in the final stages of developing an educational prevention programme for schools on drugs and alcohol for the junior cycle and the senior cycle called Know the Score. Again, this will be available on an ongoing basis.

Developing harm reduction interventions for at-risk groups is another objective of the national drugs strategy. The HSE has developed a number of early harm reduction responses for people attending festivals, students and people who use cocaine. These campaigns offer practical harm reduction information, as well as advice on how to reduce the risks of drug use.

My priority is to promote healthier lifestyles within society. Through the twin-track approach of Healthy Ireland and the national drugs strategy, I believe we can offer our young people positive alternatives to drugs and alcohol.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. We need to go a step further than we have gone. We have changed attitudes and behaviours in this country around many issues. If we look at the work that has been done around drink-driving and our road safety campaigns, this has affected outcomes. Some 20 years ago, more people would have died on our roads than would have had a drug-related death. This year, there will be more than 700 drug-related deaths. It is a huge number. We need to approach the whole area much more radically. Our programme of awareness and education needs to be run on a national basis. While the Minister of State has spoken clearly about running programmes for those who are in education, it is important that people who have left education are part of that programme. It is important that people who may buy cocaine or any other illicit drug in a nightclub tonight realise not just the harm they are potentially causing themselves, but that they are fuelling gangland crime. A national education and awareness campaign is a necessity and it needs to be in addition to all the work that is being done in the national drugs strategy and the work being carried out by the drugs task forces.

The Deputy is well aware of the strategy and what it is doing in regard to education in secondary schools and primary schools. A huge amount of work is also being done on the ground in communities through the drugs task forces which would not be possible without their input, as the Deputy knows. There are also other campaigns. As I said, the HSE has launched a harm reduction campaign for music festivals which commenced recently at the Body and Soul festival and was very successful on the ground. Last year, the Ana Liffey drug project launched a new national cocaine harm reduction campaign. This was aimed at young people, as well as older people, with a view to raising awareness of the dangers of taking cocaine and how it can affect not only them but the individuals around them and wider society.

I understand the problems at local level with the use of cocaine. This requires proper input at community level.

We should be talking about how we can influence young people at community level. This can and is being done not only through our schools but through the community organisations. There has been a huge roll-back in the supply of funding into communities. As the Deputy will be aware the €1 million for the new drugs projects will be spent in communities. The drugs task forces and related organisations will have an input in that regard.

I do not agree with the Deputy on the need for a national campaign. There is a lot happening under the national drugs strategy, which was put together following public information meetings, to assist us on our journey of helping those who are young and old in reducing the harm that drugs cause.

I thank the Minister of State for her response, but I regret I do not agree with her. I think we do need a national campaign. In her initial response, the Minister of State spoke about a number of individual campaigns, including the music festival campaign and the schools campaigns. They are fine but we need a co-ordinated national programme. Not everybody who is involved in taking illicit drugs is in education or school. Many people are recreational or casual users and they are not caught with those campaigns.

To be fair to the drug task forces, the level of funding they are receiving now in comparison with what they received a decade or more ago is not sufficient to run extensive, robust, educational awareness campaigns. The drugs task force in my area originally catered for a population of approximately 30,000. It is now catering for a population of over 100,000 people. This is not practical or feasible at the current level of funding. I acknowledge that the task forces are getting an additional €20,000 this year but that is not sufficient. Given the number of drug-related deaths, the increase in prevalence, the evidence of on-street drug dealing and the seizures by An Garda Síochána, in addition to the work being done by the drugs task forces and the initiatives under the national drugs strategy, we need a national educational awareness campaign. We need this campaign, not in replacement of existing initiatives but in addition to them.

The Deputy and I will have to agree to disagree. I do not believe we need a national campaign. As I said, there is a lot happening in this area.

The Deputy raised a number of issues in regard, in particular, to the task forces. Since 2008, funding has been reduced. We all acknowledge that but it is important to focus on the present rather than the past. We are working to fill the gaps in the drugs task forces. The level of funding has improved on what it was five or six years ago. As I said, there are a lot of initiatives happening. I agree with Deputy Curran that we need to target the funding to the right areas but I do not agree with him on the need for a multiannual educational awareness campaign because I think that is already happening through the Department of Education and Skills and other agencies and the oversight forum, of which I am member and into which all Departments have an input. There are many projects of work happening within the CHO areas under the auspices of the Departments of Education and Skills and Health and from across the board. The Departments and community groups are taking a multifaceted approach to how we can highlight the concerns around drugs issues. There is an obligation not only on politicians but on communities to make young people aware of what drugs and alcohol can do to them not only now but into the future.

The lapsed early warning and emerging trends network, which advised the Government on exchange information and new psychoactive substances, has been re-established and it is starting to make progress. There is a lot going on. I will talk to the Deputy at length about his question in the near future.