Private Members’ Business – Drugs

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Dáil Éireann 3 October 2012

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this Motion. I wish to support in the strongest possible terms the Government’s counter-motion in relation to this topic.

Tackling Ireland’s drug problem requires a many faceted approach, and while I believe that some aspects of our current system are not working, much good work is being done at community level in terms of programmes discouraging young people from drug taking and pointing to the dangers of excessive alcohol use.

Recent months have seen huge illegal drugs hauls, particularly of cannabis, right across the country. This huge supply chain mirrors a huge demand and it is only thorough tackling the demand and targeting proper resources and stricter penalties for supply that Ireland will get to grips with this issue.

I am open to a cogent debate in relation to drugs, but do believe that some of the models, such as the Dutch model, which have been held up as examples that Ireland should follow, are deeply flawed.

The motion calls on the Government to prioritise addiction as a health issue, to continue to support the local and regional drugs strategies, improve supports for socially disadvantaged people at greatest risk of addiction and introduce legislation to deal with internet sourcing and access to drugs and promote innovative programmes such as ASIST and Mindfulness in dealing with mental health and addiction issues. All of the above I believe are worthy ideals.

The scale of addition in Ireland is huge and the main drug causing devastation among Irish families is alcohol. The number of drug and alcohol-related deaths each year in Ireland is more than twice that of the number of death s on the roads; hundreds of children across the country are in care because of their families’ problems with drug and alcohol addiction.

Alcohol is a significant factor in approximately 50% of suicides and self-harm. It is also responsible for huge numbers of assaults and public order incidents. The figures go on and on. It increases the risk of more than 60 medical conditions such as cancers and is associated with approximately 2,000 beds being occupied every night in Irish acute hospitals and a quarter of injuries presenting to emergency departments as well as 8,000 admissions to specialised addition treatment centres.

In recent years Ireland has seen huge reductions in terms of the carnage on Irish roads. Road deaths decreased from 411 in 2001 to 186 last year. The success of the strategies employed in tackling road deaths must be examined and must be used in the fight against drugs. While I believe that enforcement of legislation was a key part in the fight to create safer roads, I consider that a sea change in terms of driving culture was the key element in the success. Effecting a culture change is a particularly difficult thing to do and in relation to road deaths, it was tackled on a number of fronts, including high-visibility enforcement of the law, education programmes in schools and increased awareness of the statistics on a county-by-county and month-by-month basis. However, I believe that it was advertising and in particular, graphic TV advertising, that affected the cultural sea change.

At the moment, I believe that the drinks industry has, through the vehicle of drink aware, the perfect vehicle for effecting little or no change. Advertising cheap wine in an off licence with a tag underneath encouraging people to drink responsibly is a waste of time. Consider the TV ad currently running on our screens encouraging people to drink at their own pace. It features beautiful young people drinking and having a good time, cool young people in a trendy setting, the only downside being that they are drinking a little too fast, perhaps they should slow down a little and enjoy their beautiful surroundings.

Contrast that to the image of the young man drinking and enjoying the fun with his mates after a match who then gets into a car and ploughs into a garden where a young boy is playing football and mows him down. The advertising of the Road Safety Authority, which was not a vested interest, was much more graphic and much more effective.

Perhaps the time has come to create a Drugs Awareness Authority with a remit and budget similar to the RSA, in the knowledge that should the same cultural sea change be effected, that the state would save billions in terms of health costs, policing costs and the creation of safer and more pleasant communities.

The success of the RSA campaign of recent years was that it drove home a moral point, a point about responsibility and the chain effect of an individual’s actions. A similar point can be driven home in relation to drugs, be that alcohol, illegal or unregulated drugs.

Until young people start debating among themselves whether their single purchase of a drug, be it an illegal drug or an unregulated drug, is partly responsible for the death of Ireland’s next drug war victim, then we are losing the war on drugs.

• Background in youth work and involvement with drugs programme at a regional level

The other major point to be made in relation to this is that the increasing use of illegal and unregulated drugs in Ireland mirrors what is happening all over Europe. The rising incidence of drug use will require increased resources to ensure that those affected adversely by drug use, and their families, can access quality services wherever they live in Ireland.

Holland as a model?
For many years Holland was held up as a forward-thinking model in terms of pragmatic drug legislation. Liberal legislation in Holland focused on reducing harm to drug users and diminishing the public nuisance caused by drug use and concentrating resources on combating the production and trafficking of drugs.

However the liberal approach had a number of unintended consequences, including a huge rise in drug-related tourism and complaints from local residents about criminality on the streets. Concerns have also been expressed about highly potent cannabis being sold in coffee shops.

In the Netherlands, 9.5% of young adults aged 15-34 consume soft drugs once a month, compared to 18.8% in Spain and 16.7% in France, and the country also has one of the lowest level of drug deaths in Europe. Key to this is the support system available to addicts, where 90% of help-seeking addicts are supported with detoxification programmes.

I believe that the money saved by effecting a sea change in attitudes to both alcohol and other drugs, could be used to turn around the fortunes of those whose lives have been blighted by addiction