Thursday, 10 September 2020
Public Health, Well-being and National Drugs Strategy: Statements
Jennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
I wish the Minister of State well in his new role. These are very challenging times and the Minister of State has been in place for approximately eight weeks so, like us all, he has a lot to learn. I know from working with him previously that he will work extremely hard and this has to be the focus. We all have to realise we all have to play a part and do what we can.
All things have changed because of the coronavirus, even drug use. In June, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, EMCDDA, found an overall decline in some forms of drug use in Europe during the first three months of the pandemic. It suggested the stay at home orders, the closure of night-time economies and the disruption of the street drugs market, coupled with a global shortage of drugs, contributed to this but we cannot rely on the pandemic to solve drug problems. Despite the pandemic, drug-related deaths have continued to show an upward trend. We should be alarmed at the high level of addiction deaths and there have been calls to acknowledge it as a public health crisis. This is something I am concerned about and we cannot allow it to happen. We have to make sure we provide the best help and funding we can to make sure we do not end up with what looks like could be a crisis.
Throughout the country, service providers dealing with people suffering due to drug use or addiction face closure because of the lack of funding and increased demand. Local and regional drug and alcohol task forces in communities need funding. The use of drugs is on the rise and people need to be educated about the links between drug use and long-term mental health issues. I firmly believe that education can open a lot of doors. I am a firm believer in going into our schools and educating. Educating people on what drugs can do to them is one of the most important steps the Minister of State can take. This is not only with regard to the people taking them but also their families. Many families who have come to my clinics have been affected by a loved one taking drugs. They feel there is no support for them. We need to look at the bigger picture. If we see greater investment in local task forces we can achieve change. At joint policing committee meetings throughout the country, time and again the drugs trade is cited as one of the most challenging problems in society and the committees ask for more resources. Has the onset of Covid damaged plans to fund this type of investment?
I am sure I am not alone in noticing an increase in antisocial behaviour in towns and villages. A lady who rang me yesterday was concerned about the people doing this. Sometimes we can see open drug dealing, and multiple daytime fights can be related. It seems to be on the rise. Families are scared. They are scared of Covid and scared that lawlessness will creep in. We know members of the Garda are working hard on the streets. It is about working together.
According to those dealing with this blight on our society, there are more and more drugs out there. In 2018, 55 new psychoactive substances were detected for the first time in Europe, bringing the total monitored by the EMCDDA to 730. Even with the downturn in use during lockdown, there is a sense that drugs are taking over again. We cannot allow this to happen.
As it is health and not criminal justice that will be at the core of the State's response to the possession of drugs for personal use, for better outcomes and better pathways to recovery, are we properly funding family resource centres and resourcing task forces to achieve better outcomes in our drug strategies? Local and regional drug and alcohol task forces play an essential role in communities throughout the country by providing a targeted response to emerging trends in drug and alcohol use but they cannot continue to do this good work if they are overstretched and underfunded. Their work very often extends beyond dealing with addiction and, in fact, deals with the antisocial behaviour of public drug use and drug litter also. They are under enormous pressure. The bottom line is that if their progress is to continue to make a meaningful difference to people's lives in our communities nationwide they must be supported financially.
Previous speakers have mentioned alcohol and substance recovery groups. This issue has been brought to my attention and it is very important. They are essential services. We always have to look after people who need help, whether through meetings or funding. There are many people who have come out of recovery and have done so well. It is important that we take on board everything that has been said during this debate and that we do our best to make sure we help everyone we can. Funding is key. If we can get funding into the areas where it is needed, we can do a lot of great work.