Wednesday, 4 February 2004

Ceisteanna (85, 86, 87)

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

154 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if there are plans to integrate the national alcohol strategy into the national drugs strategy; and if his Department supports such a measure. [3245/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

177 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress made to date in implementing the new national drugs strategy launched in May 2001. [3102/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerard Murphy

Ceist:

180 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will make a statement on his progress to date in tackling the increasing use of cocaine here; and the extra money and new strategies which he has put in place to meet the new and increasing needs of cocaine and poly-drug users. [3236/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 154, 177 and 180 together.

As Deputies are aware, my Department has overall responsibility for co-ordinating the implementation of the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008. The strategy contains 100 individual actions, under the four pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research, to be implemented by a range of Departments and agencies.

Since it was launched in May 2001, these Departments and agencies have made considerable progress in implementing the actions set out for them in the strategy. In particular, it should be noted that: guidelines to assist schools in the development of a drugs policy have also been developed and were issued to all primary and post-primary schools in May 2002; and the Department of Education and Science implemented substance misuse prevention programmes in all schools in the LDTF areas during the academic year 2001-02 and the social personal and health programme, SPHE, has been on the curricula of all primary and secondary schools since September 2003. This work is being supported by the SPHE support service, which has recruited additional trainers and support officers. Considerable progress is also being made as regards increasing the number of methadone treatment places. The number of places at the end of December 2003, the latest date for which confirmed figures are available, was 6,883. The equivalent figure at the end of 2000 was 5,032. Ten regional drugs task forces, RDTFs, have been established throughout the country. They are currently mapping out the patterns of drug misuse in their areas as well as range and level of existing services, with a view to better co-ordination and addressing gaps in the overall provision.

The Department of Health and Children launched a national awareness campaign in May 2003. The campaign featured television and radio advertising supported by an information brochure and website, all designed to promote greater awareness and communication about the drugs issue in Ireland. This first phase targeted the general population while the second phase, launched in October, is aimed at parents. A third set of television advertisements are currently being aired.

Customs and Excise has launched a coastal watch programme and implemented a number of measures to enhance drugs detection capability at points of entry; and over 1,120 recovering drug misusers are now on the special FÁS community employment scheme.

The strategy also provides for an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of the overall framework by the end of this year. This will examine the progress being made in achieving the overall key strategic goals set out in the strategy and will enable priorities for further action to be identified and a re-focusing of the strategy, if necessary.

My Department also has responsibility for the work of the 14 LDTFs which were established in 1997 in the areas experiencing the worst levels of drug misuse. To date, the Government has allocated or spent: approximately €65 million to implement in the region of 500 projects contained in the two rounds of plans of the LDTFs. Over €11.5 million was allocated under the premises initiative, which is designed to meet the accommodation needs of community-based drugs projects, the majority of which are in LDTF areas; and approximately €68 million to support some 350 facility and services under the young people's facilities and services fund, YPFSF. The main aim of the fund is to attract at-risk young people in disadvantaged areas into recreational facilities and activities and divert them away from the dangers of substance abuse.

As I informed the Dáil in previous replies on this topic, I am confident that through the implementation of the 100 actions in the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 and through projects and initiatives operated through the LDTFs and the YPFSF, the problem of cocaine use can be addressed. Each of the LDTFs has in place an action plan to tackle drug use in their area based on their own identified priorities.

These projects deal with supply reduction, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation for a range of drugs including cocaine. We have to be aware that most drug users engage in poly-drug use and, therefore, projects need to be able to address this pattern of usage rather than concentrating on one drug to the exclusion of others.

With regard to treatment, as the Deputies are probably aware, 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. The Deputies should note that the three area health boards of the Eastern Regional Health Authority have recruited additional counsellors and outreach workers in recent years.

In addition, where cocaine use is found to be a problem, this can be reflected in the measures proposed in the action plans of the RDTFs who, as I have outlined above, are currently mapping out the patterns of drug misuse in their areas.

I can assure the Deputies that I will be keeping the matter of cocaine use under review. The need to amend the strategy to reflect changing patterns of drug use will be considered in the context of the mid-term evaluation of the strategy which, as I have outlined above, will be carried out by the end of this year.

With regard to the national alcohol policy, Deputies will be aware that this is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, who is pursuing a number of initiatives in this area. The national drugs strategy calls for increased links between both policies in terms of cross-representation on the relevant committees and working groups to ensure complementarity between the different measures being taken and this is being done. There are no plans at present to merge these two areas.

Question No. 155 answered with QuestionNo. 138.
Question No. 156 answered with QuestionNo. 151.
Question No. 157 answered with QuestionNo. 141.