The National Advisory Committee on Drugs, for which my Department has responsibility, published a study on the prevalence of opiate misuse in Ireland in May 2003 and estimated that there are 14,452 opiate users in Ireland.
This estimate was based on statistics provided by three data sources for 2001 — the central drug treatment list, Garda data and the hospital in-patient data. This was the first formal estimate of the number of opiate users undertaken since 1996. However, it should be noted that the 1996 study, which arrived at an estimate of 13,461, estimated prevalence for Dublin only.
The latest study estimates that there are 12,456 opiate users in Dublin with a further 2,225 users outside the capital. The Deputy should note that the Dublin and outside Dublin figures do not add up to the national total as all three figures are the result of separate statistical calculations which are performed independently of each other.
I am sure that the Deputy will agree that the drop in prevalence figures in Dublin since 1996 is encouraging. Equally encouraging is the finding that the number of users in the 15 to 24 year old bracket has reduced substantially which may point to a lower rate of initiation into heroin misuse.
In this context, the Deputy should note that since 1996 the availability of treatment for opiate dependence has increased very significantly and this may be a factor in explaining the latest estimates. For example, in relation to methadone, there were 1,350 places available on the central methadone treatment list at the start of 1996, whereas currently there are approximately6,900.
While many of the study's findings are encouraging, I strongly believe that we cannot afford any degree of complacency. The Government is committed to working in partnership with communities most affected by drug misuse and the continued implementation of the 100 actions set out in the national drug strategy remains a priority. In broad terms, the strategy seeks to increase the seizures of heroin and other drugs, to expand the availability of prevention, treatment and rehabilitation programmes while also putting in place more focused initiatives through the local drugs task forces and the young people's facilities and services fund in areas where drug use, particularly heroin, is most prevalent.
I should point out to the Deputy, that 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 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.