Government’s Drugs Strategy is failing to deliver
Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD speaking in the Dáil in relation to the National Drugs Strategy demanded that the government take action to deal with the crack cocaine and crystal meth which are now in danger of establishing a real foothold in this country. He said "We are now six years into a seven year strategy that has failed to deliver. It is failing because of the refusal of government to throw its full weight, in the form of resources, behind it. The government refused to respond quickly to changing trends. They refused to heed the warnings.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"Crack cocaine and crystal meth are in danger of establishing a real foothold in this country. Act now and maybe this can be staved off. We are currently six years into a seven year strategy which failed to deliver - the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008.
The evidence of failure can be found in the fact that last year 1,700 new heroin injectors presented to the Merchants Quay Ireland service. Cocaine-related deaths are on the increase. The Dublin County Coroner Dr. Kieran Geraghty issued a stark warning during the summer on the lethal nature of even small quantities of cocaine after he dealt with
five cocaine-related deaths in one day. The frequency and volume of seizures across all categories of illegal drugs are at record highs. Prevalence and use are increasing. All this during the life-time of the National Drugs Strategy.
And why has the strategy been failing to deliver? The refusal of government to throw its full weight, in the form of resources, behind it. The government refused to respond quickly to changing trends. They refused to heed the warnings. Budget 2007 and previous budgets resulted in major funding shortfalls so that emerging needs, in particular, could not be met. We are still in the pilot phase of many projects, in particular in relation to cocaine, despite the early warnings of service providers.
The government must respond promptly to the new threats identified by communities and service providers. So, what needs to happen now? Keeping an eye to the development of a new strategy from 2008 on, all 5 pillars of the National Drugs Strategy must be implemented with determination and full financing and in full partnership with communities. In addition a cocaine specific action plan must be drawn up and implemented.
In terms of supply reduction my party made a range of recommendations in our submission to the Garda Policing Plan 2008. Our recommendations include the doubling
of resources for national and local drugs units and the roll-out of a non-Garda phoneline to receive reports of drug-related crime - based on the 'Dial to Stop Drug Dealing' initiative successfully piloted in Blanchardstown.
In terms of prevention, given the rising levels of prevalence and use, serious work remains to be done across the board. But in particular action must be taken to dispel the commonly held myth that cocaine is somehow a harmless drug. There can be no ambiguity in relation to this from any quarter.
Cocaine abuse continues to result in serious health deterioration, mental and emotional problems, chronic addiction, debt, and rising gangland killings and reprisals. There is also a worrying development in the increase in those injecting cocaine, which can result in huge medical implications with users experiencing abscesses and wounds and even serious infection leading to amputations of limbs.
Cocaine-focused prevention measures in terms of education and awareness raising must be prioritised.
Treatment must also be made available to all in need of it. In particular harmful waiting times must be eliminated. And the Minister for health must take responsibility and intervene to the hugely detrimental impact of HSE recruitment freezes and other cuts etc. It was reported in Medicine Weekly that there was a drop of 70% in the number of referrals for treatment at Carlow Mental Health Services because the drug counselling posts continued to be vacant. There are simply too few drug treatment counsellors to meet the need that is out there. This is one of countless treatment shortfalls.
Finally in terms of rehabilitation, the government must resource and implement in full and without delay the recommendations and outworkings of the Working Group on Rehabilitation. Including:
the appointment of the National Drug Rehabilitation Implementation Committee, 10 rehabilitation co-ordinators and support staff;
more residential detoxification beds;
more drug-specific CE places;
child care provision; and