I propose to take Questions Nos. 981 and 999 to 1002, inclusive, together.
Government policy in relation to drug and alcohol addiction services is set out in the national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery-a health led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025.
The survey conducted by the HSE and Trinity College Dublin was aimed at people over the age of 18 who self reported as persons who had used drugs at a festival either in Ireland or abroad. The 1,000 respondents to the survey are not a representative sample of all festival attendees in Ireland. The survey contained a question regarding nitrous oxide.
The HSE has stated that a report on the survey will be submitted to a peer reviewed journal for publication. This process may take some time and at this point a publication date for the full article cannot be provided.
Important elements of the survey will be included in the report of the Working Group on Emerging Trends which will be released in the fourth quarter of this year,
The HSE is gathering evidence on the use of nitrous oxide nationally through HSE Addiction Managers and Drug and Alcohol Task Forces. The HSE is also in contact with An Garda Síochána, hospitals, and have contacted the National Poisons Information Centre in this regard.
The HSE will continue to review these sources in August and September to identify if harms are emerging or if young people are presenting for treatment with problems associated with nitrous oxide. The information obtained and the evidence gathered will inform an appropriate response that may include a range of strategies to increase the awareness of the harms associated with drug use among young people. It must be noted that, to date, there have been no presentations to HSE Adolescent Addiction services for treatment specifically in relation to nitrous oxide.
Nitrous oxide falls under the definition of a psychoactive substance and a solvent. Section 3 of the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances Act) 2010 states that a person who sells a psychoactive substance knowing or being reckless as to whether that substance is being acquired or supplied for human consumption shall be guilty of an offence.
Section 74 of the Child Care Act 1991 states that it shall be an offence for a person to sell, offer or make available a substance to a person under the age of eighteen years or to a person acting on behalf of that person if he knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the substance is, or its fumes are, likely to be inhaled by the person under the age of eighteen years for the purpose of causing intoxication.
Responsibility for these Acts lays with the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, respectively.
Data from 2004 to 2017, which is the latest year for which data is available for dissemination from the National Drug Related Deaths Index, records no poisoning deaths as a specific result of nitrous oxide intake. The Index is based on four data sources (Coronial files, CTL, HIPE and CSO). Any deaths that may be due to nitrous oxide in 2020 will be reported in due course.
I am aware of recent media reports regarding the increased use of nitrous oxide during the lockdown period, which is of grave concern to me. Particular vigilance is required to protect young people from threats to their health and well-being from misuse of substances, including nitrous oxide. The Government is committed to continuing to resource harm reduction and education campaigns aimed at increasing awareness of the risks of drug use.