Dáil Éireann - Volume 591 - 28 October, 2004

Written Answers. - National Drugs Strategy.

  75. Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the actions she intends to take to counteract the spread of opiate use here in view of recent studies which have revealed the dramatic increase in opiate use, particularly outside of Dublin; if she intends to increase the number of initiatives and resources available to combat opiate abuse; if she intends to expand the number of needle exchange facilities available as part of the national drugs strategy in order to reduce the spread of drug related diseases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23050/04]

  Ms Harney: As the Deputy is aware, the provision of drug treatment services is the statutory responsibility of the health boards.

To address the problem of drug misuse, health boards provide a wide range of drug addiction services including outreach, education, treatment, rehabilitation and community welfare in line with the actions set out in the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008. Furthermore, the health boards fund and co-ordinate a broad range of services provided by voluntary and community sector organisations. Additional annual funding provided to health boards for drug treatment services since 1997 amounts to €52 million. This funding has allowed for the employment of over 730 staff in the drug addiction services and for the expansion of services. Since 2002 alone an additional €9.721 million has been allocated to health boards. Funding is provided for the treatment of all drug users abusing all types of drugs and is not broken down by a specific type of drug. In the Eastern Regional Health Authority, ERHA, there are currently 59 drug treatment locations. This is an increase of 47 locations since 1996. Outside the ERHA, seven treatment clinics have been established.

With regard to prevalence of opiate use, research conducted by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs, NACD, last year estimated that there were 14,452 people using opiates in Ireland in 2001. In comparing the estimates for Dublin for the year 1996 with those for the year 2001, there appears to be a decrease of approximately 1,000 in the prevalence of opiate users. [498] There are no comparative figures for the regions outside Dublin as they were not included in the 1996 study.

The numbers in treatment for heroin use outside the Eastern Regional Health Authority, ERHA, area have increased significantly between 1998 and 2002. This is in line with one of the key actions in the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 which is to increase the number of treatment places available for drug misusers. At the end of September 2004, 7114 people were receiving methadone treatment. Based on the NACD figures, we can say that around half the people who misuse opiates are in treatment, a very high proportion by international standards.

Regional drugs task forces have been established in all health boards and are currently mapping out the patterns of drug misuse in their areas as well as the range and level of existing services with a view to better co-ordination and addressing gaps in the overall provision of services. It is expected that these reports and actions plans will be received and considered by my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, in the coming months.

The Deputy will also be aware that the programme for Government calls for the monitoring of the use of heroin, particularly outside Dublin and in this regard the NACD are currently establishing an early warning system to address this issue.

As part of the mid-term review of the national drugs strategy, which is being conducted by the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, the relevance of the strategy in tackling the current extent and pattern of drug misuse is being examined and any gaps will be identified and addressed.

In relation to needle exchange, I am informed that the Northern Area Health Board, NAHB, the South Western Area Health Board, SWAHB, and the East Coast Area Health Board, ECAHB, offer harm reduction programmes including needle exchange from fixed sites, mobile units and outreach work. Outreach workers frequently practise “backpacking” a process whereby staff, in the absence of a local clinic or mobile unit, carry supplies of drug-taking paraphernalia for distribution to known drug misusers. Additional services operate from Merchant's Quay Project, and other sites in the greater Dublin area run in partnership by the three area health boards of the ERHA and a number of voluntary organisations.