Pubdate: Sat, 10 Jun 2000
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2000 The Irish Times
Contact:  11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2, Ireland
Fax: + 353 1 671 9407
Author:  Kitty Holland


Starting in Cork yesterday, the Government has embarked on a series of 
meetings throughout the State to hear what people think should be done 
about drugs. Kitty Holland sets the scene

Serious drug abuse has spread beyond Dublin, with cocaine, ecstasy and 
cannabis abuse in particular having doubled in some areas between 1997 and 
1998. And no one is in any doubt that drug-users are getting younger, and 
using for longer.

Waiting lists for methadone maintenance remain, more than three years after 
a ministerial task force recommended a target "to eliminate all waiting 
lists [for methadone maintenance centres in Dublin] during 1997".

The Ministerial Task Force on Measures to Reduce the Demand for Drugs made 
its first report in October 1996. Mr Pat Rabbitte, the former minister of 
State who chaired it, says: "It's disappointing to see that gaps so clearly 
remain in the treatment infrastructure. It is shocking the number of users 
out there not getting treatment."

Yesterday the Minister of State Mr Eoin Ryan embarked on a series of 
regional meetings as part of the review of the National Drugs Strategy 
which the Government is undertaking. The first of these, at which 
individuals and groups can make submissions, took place in Cork yesterday 
afternoon. Others will follow in several cities over the next fortnight.

The Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation has received more than 100 
written submissions and over 1,000 hits at the review website.

The review, put simply, will assess how effective the National Drugs 
Strategy team and the 13 local drugs task forces which grew out of the 
first Ministerial Task Force report have been in reducing the demand for drugs.

"It will also look at how government agencies have worked with the task 
forces," says Mr Ryan. "Though the task forces were originally established 
in just two cities, there is a realisation that this is a national strategy 
and that we need to look at the situation throughout the country."

Some 12 of the 13 local task forces were established in Dublin, the 
remaining one being in north Cork city. Staffed by people from the 
community as well as representatives of various State agencies, their role 
has been to identify what their communities need in terms of treatment and 
preventive measures, and to submit proposals on how these needs might best 
be met.

The National Drugs Strategy team includes senior civil servants and 
representatives of the Garda, the health boards, FC1S and the voluntary 

No one The Irish Times has spoken to about the drugs strategy, whether 
involved in the task forces or not, doubts it has been "a good thing". 
Some, however, expressed reservations about the local task forces' ability 
to effect real change, about the level of co-operation from some State 
bodies and about the strategy's capacity to examine more radical treatments 
for addicts.

Although waiting lists for methadone maintenance programmes in Dublin 
remain, some of up to nine months, Mr Ryan says that the number of places 
for treatment has grown enormously since 1997.

In 1988 Dublin had one methadone clinic. That rose to five in 1995 and to 
13 in 1996. Today the Eastern Regional Health Authority runs drug treatment 
centres in 52 locations. These target an estimated 13,000 heroin addicts in 
Dublin, although just 4,600 receive treatment.

On Cork city's north side, Mr Willie Collins, co-ordinator of the area's 
local drugs task force, says the problem drugs remain cannabis, ecstasy, 
solvents and alcohol. In 1997 the local task force was awarded pounds 
660,000 of the pounds 14 million channelled into the drugs strategy. Most 
of this amount has gone into preventive intiatives. Mr Collins says he 
would like to see more attention given to prevention of alcohol abuse. "It 
is certainly a gateway drug in a lot of instances," he says.

Like others, he stresses the complex reasons behind any individual's drug 
addiction and the need for a multi-faceted approach to treatment and 
prevention. It is in this area that Ms Anna Quigley, co-ordinator of the 
Dublin Citywide Campaign Against Drugs, has most hopes for the current review.

"While the task forces have been invaluable in finally giving communities a 
real say in their area," she says, "mobilising them in a way that was 
unthinkable 10 years ago, when you look at the amount of money they 
actually have a say in, compared with the enormous budgets of Government 
Departments, there is a clear need to hone strategies, to refine lobbying 
and campaigning and to set the task forces in a context where we can say: 
`This is what the task forces can do, and this is what they can't, and 
should not be expected to do'."

Some Departments, notably Education, she says, have been reluctant to get 
involved with the task forces at a local level. This is also mentioned by 
Mr Jim Ryan, co-ordinator of the DFAn Laoghaire task force.

He comments: "The Department of Education must realise these are areas 
which need special attention, and local schools must be enabled to react 
adequately to areas which have suffered appalling neglect over the years."

Mr Ryan says he will listen to anyone, and that the series of meetings has 
been arranged for this purpose.

The drugs problem can be turned around, he believes. "I really believe this 
is something that can be done, but we have stored up some dreadful problems 
in this country. It's emabarrassing really. Sometimes you look at these 
areas [where the drugs problem is worst], so desperately deprived, and just 
think: `What are we doing here at all?'

"There is no magic wand and these things will take time, but I think that 
with a concerted effort and commitment, we can do it."
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