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Government has no idea how bad drugs situation has got - Morgan

24 May, 2006


Speaking in the Dáil this evening on Sinn Féin's Private Members Motion on drugs Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan said the Government had "absolutely no idea how bad the drugs situation has got." In his contribution to the debate Deputy Morgan gave an account of two mothers who separately came to him for help who both had a son locked in their bedrooms in an effort to get them off drugs.

Deputy Morgan said, "The Government has absolutely no idea how bad the drugs situation has got. They have failed to get to grips with the fact that the problem is not confined to Dublin. In the Northwest of the state there is no infrastructure whatsoever to treat drug addicts. There is just one doctor in the region trained to deal with drug addicts and just one counsellor.

"There is one project run by volunteers in the Northwest called the Crossroads Project and they must be congratulated for their efforts to deal with this scourge. However they are not having much luck so far with eight funerals to date. The oldest was 34 and the youngest was just 21.

"Recently two mothers contacted me separately. Both had a son locked in their bedrooms in an effort to get them off drugs. One of those mothers was actually buying methadone from drug dealers to treat her son because she felt there was no other way. It is a sad reflection on the Government that the mothers of addicts and recovering addicts are doing more to combat drugs in the Northwest than the state is.

"The same Minister of State has responsibility for both housing and drugs -- two huge and critical portfolio responsibilities -- and is making no headway in dealing with either. It is vital that the issue be given the attention of a dedicated Minister of State with sole responsibility for drugs issues." ENDS

Full text of speech follows:

The Government has absolutely no idea how bad the drugs situation has got. They have failed to get to grips with the fact that the problem is not confined to Dublin. In the Northwest of the state there is no infrastructure whatsoever to treat drug addicts. There is just one doctor in the region trained to deal with drug addicts and just one counsellor.

There is one project run by volunteers in the Northwest called the Crossroads Project and they must be congratulated for their efforts to deal with this scourge. However they are not having much luck so far with eight funerals to date. The oldest was 34 and the youngest was just 21.

Recently two mothers contacted me separately. Both had a son locked in their bedrooms in an effort to get them off drugs. One of those mothers was actually buying methadone from drug dealers to treat her son because she felt there was no other way. It is a sad reflection on the Government that the mothers of addicts and recovering addicts are doing more to combat drugs in the Northwest than the state is.

Sinn Féin has repeatedly brought the growing cocaine and crack cocaine crisis to Government's attention over the last few years. Following the publication of the Merchant's Quay Project annual report last September we demanded a fully resourced National Action Plan to prevent and address cocaine use and its consequences. This was done in the context of the government's ongoing failure to acknowledge the true gravity of the situation. Thankfully in recent months a number of Ministers have belatedly accepted that there is a cocaine problem but they continue to underestimate its size and geographical spread.

The government must learn from the past failure to acknowledge and respond to the emergence of the heroin crisis and the grave consequences of that neglect. Sinn Féin is calling on the government to immediately formulate, resource and implement an Action Plan to combat spiralling cocaine use and to do this in partnership with community representatives and groups. This must include giving the Local Drugs Tasks Forces the extra resources they need to begin seriously addressing cocaine and crack cocaine problems in their areas and the extension of existing successful pilot projects.

At present the government is totally over-reliant on the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and the Drug and Alchohol Information and Research Unit research data, published in May 2004, on the prevalence of cocaine use. This has resulted in a failure to respond adequately to the situation. The methodology of this research is flawed, possibly due to funding constraints. It is very likely that the research systematically under-reported the prevalence of overall drug use. It failed to survey homeless people or those in institutions where it is likely that drug use is significantly higher, while the remit was limited to those over 15 years of age. It involved face-to-face interviews with a response rate of 70% and it is likely that the 30% refusing to participate included a higher number of drug users. Ministers have consistently dismissed the indicators of a serious cocaine problem brought to them by Deputies Crowe and O Snodaigh, choosing instead to rely on research that grossly underestimated the problem.

A more accurate depiction of the escalating crisis can be got from the increase in seizures of cocaine and crack cocaine. Almost 243kg of cocaine was seized by Gardai in 2005 compared with just 18 kg in 2000. And there has also been an increase in the number of seizures of crack cocaine over the last 3 years. Such quantities of crack cocaine are being produced because a market exists. The rise in cocaine use was also highlighted by the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in report last July. Research included in this report showed a threefold increase in prevalence of cocaine use amongst women from 1999-2002 and a doubling amongst men. It also found that those people in receipt of drug treatments and reporting cocaine as their primary problem drug was 6 times greater in 2002 then in 1996, and those reporting it as their second or lesser problem drug increased 14 fold over the same period. A study in one Dublin area found that almost 7% of all young people and over 50% of early school leavers in the area use cocaine. In light of these figures the government cannot continue to deny the gravity of the situation and the urgency of the response required.

In conclusion, the same Minister of State has responsibility for both housing and drugs -- two huge and critical portfolio responsibilities -- and is making no headway in dealing with either. It is vital that the issue be given the attention of a dedicated Minister of State with sole responsibility for drugs issues.

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