Dáil debates

Wednesday, 8 February 2006

Priority Questions.

National Drugs Strategy.

1:00 pm

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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Question 105: To ask the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the discussions he has had with the national drugs strategy team in regard to the potential danger of the rapid spread of the use of crack cocaine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4505/06]

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I assure the Deputy that I am in ongoing contact with the national drugs strategy team regarding various aspects of the national drugs strategy. I am monitoring the situation with regard to the misuse of drugs, including crack cocaine.

No specific studies on the use of crack cocaine in this State have been carried out. The available figures come from the joint national advisory committee on drugs and the drug and alcohol information and research unit — Northern Ireland — drug prevalence survey. The survey showed that the use of crack cocaine was very low at that time — 0.3% reported lifetime use and 0.1% reported use in the past 12 months. It is intended that a new drug prevalence study will be carried out from perhaps this autumn to 2007.

Each of the drugs task forces has an action plan in place to tackle drug use in their area based on their own identified priorities and they continue to have ongoing contact with their local communities. These projects deal with supply reduction, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation for a range of drugs, including crack cocaine. We must be aware that most drug users engage in poly-drug use and, therefore, projects generally aim to address this pattern of usage rather than concentrating on one drug to the exclusion of others.

I recently met senior members of the Garda Síochána involved in the drugs area. The feedback from them and other sources indicates that crack cocaine is not being used extensively in Ireland but is confined to small areas of the population.

However, I fully accept that a potential danger exists that the use of crack cocaine could spread rapidly and I assure the Deputy that I will continue to monitor the situation and will ensure any necessary steps are taken to address increased threats.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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Does the Minister not agree that 80% of crack cocaine users go on to develop an addiction, usually within a fortnight of their first smoke, while 7% of cocaine users go on to develop an addiction, which can take up to 18 months? The "high" associated with crack cocaine is unparalleled. I understand that it can last for 40 to 50 seconds and never exceeds a few minutes. However, the "high" from cocaine lasts for half an hour and that from heroin for three to four hours. Hence, this is a particularly lethal and awful drug.

Recently, I read a report that suggested that Irish underworld dons are major players who bring untold amounts of cocaine into Britain. My basic point is that there are indications that crack cocaine is available here. There is plenty of cocaine in the country and establishing so-called cocaine factories is not particularly difficult. When one sees the rapidity with which cocaine use — and crack cocaine use in particular — spread in the United Kingdom, I am not convinced that the system outlined by the Minister of State is anywhere near adequate to deal with this issue. Cocaine appears to be available here and taking that extra step is not beyond the ken of the people to whom I refer. Ultimately, the problem is that people get addicted so quickly that the spread of crime and the consequences on the community at large would be enormous.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I agree this is a particularly lethal and awful drug. While it is obtainable in Dublin, thus far it has been largely confined to certain community groups. It is an open question as to whether it stays within those community groups or spreads out among native Dubliners. I agree this is a real problem. It is harder for the Garda to make seizures of crack cocaine because it might not be imported. Ordinary cocaine is processed or cooked into crack cocaine. However, we are aware of the dangers it poses. The Garda Síochána is aware of where it may be found, is monitoring the situation carefully and is trying to clamp down on it. Undoubtedly however, if it became more widespread, some of the Deputy's fears could well be realised, as it is a particularly lethal drug.

The problem with cocaine, either crack cocaine or the ordinary variety, is that unlike heroin, there is no substitute treatment for it. Hence one can only try to attract users who have become addicted to avail of services such as counselling or behavioural therapy. This is often difficult because some of the people concerned live fairly chaotic lives and it is difficult to attract them to avail of services. However, the situation is being monitored carefully and I hope the drug will not become prevalent in more mainstream communities.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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While I thank the Minister of State for his reply, does he not agree that in terms of reassuring the public, he has said nothing that suggests the levels of urgency, alertness and keen observation that will be necessary to keep this situation under control? The impact of this drug far exceeds anything we have encountered heretofore. For instance, I have read that people of middle class backgrounds, particularly in the financial sector in London, have also been dabbling in crack cocaine. Hence, there is a need to impress on people the message about the awfulness of this drug. If one can become addicted to it within a fortnight, time is of the essence. People must be warned about the drug and there must be more urgent and focused preparations to prevent the awful plague that may result from its use.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I appreciate the Deputy's comments and assure him the Government is doing what it can. I do not believe the middle class people mentioned by the Deputy are those who are most at risk. As of now, it is more likely to be heroin misusers who have availed of drug addiction services. Consequently, they can be made aware of the dangers of this drug through such services. To some extent, people must also be aware of their own role and responsibility in this respect. However, we have conducted more widespread awareness campaigns, strictly targeting cocaine users in nightclubs, late night pubs and similar venues. Last year, we specifically mounted such a campaign to inform people of the dangers of cocaine and of crack cocaine in particular. They were informed that it is not a recreational drug and, as the Deputy has noted, that one can become addicted extremely quickly. This information should be widely disseminated.

Thus far however, crack cocaine is not a major problem here. The situation is being carefully monitored and while it may be in use within immigrant communities, individuals from such groups could easily and rapidly begin dealing it to the local population. Through community groups, local drugs task forces and different projects we make people aware of this drug's awfulness and of the potential damage it can do to them.