I am aware of the evidence of an increase in the prevalence of cocaine use, particularly through the local drugs task forces and the research done by the national advisory committee on drugs. Initial results from the 2002-03 drug prevalence survey of the overall national position, launched last October, showed that 3.1 % of the population between the ages of 15 and 64 have ever used cocaine, 1.1 % used it in the past 12 months and 0.3% used it in the past month. Results for the 15 to 34 year age group show slightly higher usage: 4.8% have ever used cocaine, 2% have used it in the past year and 0.7% reported usage in the past month. Compared with similar surveys undertaken in other European countries, these figures suggest that use in Ireland is perhaps slightly above average.
Bulletin 2 of the survey was launched last week and contains data for health board areas. The figures show that prevalence of all drugs varies considerably across the country, although there appears to be a higher prevalence in the east, particularly in the ERHA region. The numbers presenting for treatment of cocaine are, according to the most recent figures available, still very low and make up approximately 1% of the overall number of people in treatment. Garda authorities advise me that there are indications of an increase in the availability and use of cocaine. Offences involving cocaine, however, still represent a small proportion of the overall number of drug offences annually, approximately 5.5% of all such offences, according to the most recent Garda annual report.
The increase in Ireland appears to coincide with an increase in the availability and use of cocaine in Europe generally, as a result of increased production, particularly in Colombia, and a consequential drop in the street price. Through the implementation of the 100 actions in the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 and through projects and initiatives operated through the local drugs task forces and the young people's facilities and services fund, the problem of cocaine use can be addressed. Each of the local drugs task forces has in place an action plan to tackle drug use in its area based on its identified priorities. These projects deal with supply reduction, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation for a range of drugs, including cocaine. We must be aware that most drug users engage in poly-drug use and projects should be able to address this pattern of usage rather than concentrating on one drug to the exclusion of others. Since 1997 the Government has allocated or spent over €65 million to implement the projects under the two rounds of task force plans.
Regional drug task forces have been established in each health board area. Where cocaine use is found to be a problem, this can be reflected in the measures proposed in their forthcoming regional action plans. The Deputy will also be aware of the valuable preventative work being done through the young people's facilities and services fund whose aim is to attract "at risk" young people in disadvantaged areas into facilities, programmes and activities that will divert them away from the dangers of drug misuse.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Over €72 million has been allocated under the fund to support in the region of 450 facility and services projects. It is vital that we continue to invest in facilities and services in areas worst affected by drugs if we are to stop the flow of young people into a life of addiction. There is no substitution treatment drug for cocaine and I am advised that existing services such as counselling and behavioural therapy are the best treatments available. In this context, it should be noted that the three area health boards of the ERHA have recruited additional counsellors and outreach workers in recent years. I am keeping the matter of cocaine use under review.
Furthermore, the strategy provides for an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of the overall framework by end 2004. This will examine the progress being made in achieving the overall key goals set out in the strategy and will enable priorities for further action to be identified and a refocusing of the strategy, if necessary. The need to amend the strategy to reflect changing patterns of drug use will be considered in that context. In recent months I have visited several local drugs task force areas and discussed with community representatives and others the nature of the drug problem in their areas, including cocaine use. I have asked the national drugs strategy team to consider how best to develop proposals to help address this issue at local level.