Dáil debates

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Addiction Services: Motion [Private Members]


8:45 pm

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Dublin South, Labour) | Oireachtas source

Let us take a moment to consider the facts. Alcohol misuse was responsible for at least 88 deaths every month in 2008. It is a contributory factor in half of all suicides and in deliberate self-harm. It is associated with the occupation every night of 2,000 beds in Irish acute hospitals and one quarter of injuries presenting to emergency departments. Alcohol abuse is estimated to be associated with 16% of child abuse cases. It was a trigger in a third of domestic abuse cases in 2005. In 2007, alcohol related illness cost the health care system €1.2 billion and alcohol related crime cost an estimated €1.19 billion. The cost of lost economic output in 2007 owing to alcohol was estimated to be €427 million. In addition to the terrible human loss and suffering involved, alcohol related road accidents cost an estimated €530 million in 2007.

In addition, a range of disorders known as foetal alcohol spectrum disorders are caused by mothers drinking alcohol in pregnancy.

This state of affairs simply cannot continue. The time has come for us to rethink our relationship with alcohol. Irish people drink in a more dangerous way than people in almost every other country. Irish adults drank 11.9 litres of pure alcohol per capitain 2010. This equates to 482 pints of lager, 125 bottles of wine or 45 bottles of vodka. Ultimately, 1.5 million Irish drinkers drink in a harmful pattern.

It is imperative that as a society we reduce the overall level of alcohol consumed in our society and tackle the problems of alcohol misuse. The report of the national substance misuse strategy steering group was published last February. It made a number of recommendations focusing on the supply, pricing, availability and marketing of alcohol, along with measures for the policy areas of prevention strategies, treatment, rehabilitation, alcohol and substance dependency research and information. For example, it recommended an increase in the price of alcohol so it becomes less affordable, and the introduction of a legislative basis for minimum pricing and a social responsibility levy on the drinks industry.

The extent of alcohol misuse warrants such policies to address this pervasive threat to Irish public health. Minimum pricing is ultimately a mechanism of imposing a statutory floor in price levels for alcohol products that must be legally observed by retailers. The primary function of this measure is to reduce at-risk levels of alcohol consumption, especially by those who drink in a harmful and hazardous way. It would also have a greater impact on discouraging children and young adults to drink. In turn, this should diminish the effect of the misuse and over-consumption of alcohol on public services, crimes and public health, along, of course, with productivity in the economy.

The national substance misuse strategy sets out the future direction of policy to deal with the use and misuse of alcohol. The Department of Health is preparing a concrete set of proposals on the basis of the national substance misuse strategy report, and it is intended to submit these to Government for consideration and approval as soon as possible.

The Government is fully committed to addressing the drugs problem, and as a Minister of State with responsibility in this area I intend to continue to drive the implementation of the drugs strategy and ensure that tackling the problem of addiction throughout Ireland remains very high on the Government's agenda. I acknowledge the progress achieved by my predecessor, Deputy Róisín Shortall, in advancing the national drugs strategy. I look forward to bringing proposals on an alcohol policy to the Government in the very near future, and in this regard I am confident my colleagues in government will support the timely finalisation and subsequent implementation of the national substance misuse strategy.


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