Seanad debates

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Commencement Matters

National Drugs Strategy

2:30 pm

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

The national drug-related deaths index was published this morning. The figures are shocking. There is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, not only within communities, but as a Government and a nation. I will not say that we will continue monitoring the situation, as monitoring is not good enough. Through the national drugs strategy, we will identify why so many people are losing their lives due to addiction and poisoning.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity to outline the development of the new national drugs strategy. The overall objective of the National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016 was to tackle the harm caused to individuals and society by the misuse of drugs. Concern focused on the pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research. I am keenly aware from my work in my community that the drug problem is a complex and challenging issue that has damaging consequences for those who use drugs, their families, their wider communities and society. The impact of drug-related intimidation and criminality threatens the safety and security of many communities. This has been particularly evident in light of the recent events in Dublin's north inner city and other areas throughout the country.

Drug-related deaths are a stark reminder of the impact of the drug problem in our communities. The latest figures published by the Health Research Board today indicate that almost two people died each day in 2014 as a result of poisoning, trauma or medical causes linked to drug misuse. More than 690 people died in 2014, similar to the number reported in 2013.Many of those tragic deaths were premature, with half of all the deaths in 2004 among those aged 39 years or younger. This illustrates the need for a strategic approach to deliver better outcomes for those affected by addiction.

As the House will be aware, a steering committee has been established to advise me on a new national drugs strategy. The committee has been mandated to develop an integrated public health approach to substance misuse in line with the commitment in the programme for Government to support a health-led approach to drug use.

I am aware that the Senator led calls for the inclusion of a community pillar in the new strategy in the course of the recent public consultation process. While the structure of the new strategy has not yet been agreed by the steering committee, I agree that it is important to maintain the focus on communities. whether it is achieved by having a dedicated community pillar or through other means.

The Senator is correct in identifying the fact that we received a substantial number of contributions during the public consultation process, but we also had more than 2,000 questionnaires returned. More than 350 submissions received, with many telephone calls. For the first time there was a real opportunity for communities to participate not only by telephone and through community groups but also by means of a questionnaire. We are processing all of the contributions received. The process will take some time to complete, but we are moving in the right direction.

The Department of Health is developing a performance measurement framework for drug and alcohol task forces which will provide an objective way of targeting funding allocations having regard to the drugs problem and demographic factors in task force areas. This work will feed into the new strategy and help to ensure resources will be directed towards the communities which are facing a higher risk of substance misuse. I understand the steering committee is continuing its deliberations. I look forward to receiving its final report on the new national drugs strategy early in the new year.


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