Pubdate: Tuesday, March 10, 1998 Source: Irish Times Author: Tom King Contact: Fax: ++ 353 1 671 9407 OPINION CELEBRATE MILLENNIUM BY TACKLING DRUGS An integrated approach involving State bodies, voluntary agencies and the community is the only way to tackle the urban drugs problem, writes TOM KING As we approach the millennium, there is much talk and action about various projects to mark that moment in history as we pass from one millennium to the next. Quite properly, there is an excitement and energy evident in the media's reporting of the millennium projects. The concentration appears to be on creating and completing physical and infrastructural projects; creating fine things to be admired and enjoyed by those who, in this society, have the capacity and the means to absorb the cultural benefits of a fine sculpture or architectural project. But there is another culture in this society, particularly in the city and suburbs of Dublin. There is a level of society which focuses daily on survival and has neither the physical energy, the appropriate education nor the means to revel in the ambience of millennium projects. What exactly will the moment of the millennium mark for a huge majority of people in the so-called "council" or "corporation" housing areas, many of whom await the predictable arrival of the welfare cheque from some Department of State? That society, created by decades of poor urban planning, less than enlightened social policy and practices, has, in effect, been created by the State. It does not share, even now, in the advantages of a strong economy. Sure, there is a tinkering about each Budget day with a few percent increases, but this merely keeps them in line, if they are lucky, with inflation. Members of the Garda, social workers, prison wardens, corporation and council officials know this culture very well. Every day, they see the deprivation and despair in these communities. The drug problem is a spectacular outcome of this deprivation and despair. In reality, there are two drug cultures in Ireland, mirrored in Europe and the US. There are people, usually with money and often employed, who take drugs as a deliberate act, a conscious reasoned decision. They take these drugs in private and as long as the problem remains controlled by these individuals, then the public, including the Garda, may never become aware of the true level of this type of abuse. It is the second, open and more threatening drug abuse, which is the basis for all action by the State and its organisations, as well as the community. The current research shows that the drug problem has a very definitive and significant impact on crime and, as a consequence, has a direct impact on the quality of public life. The term "quality of life" has a much greater significance for the haves of this society. Who wants to be disturbed from a moment spent observing and absorbing some architectural project or sculpture by a representative of the sub-culture waving a syringe and desperate for his or her next fix? This man or woman with the syringe has no time to "stand and stare", in the words of the poet. The reality is that the drug problem, as manifested by the syringe-wielding junkie, has as its basis the sub-culture of that part of society which, for many years, has been neglected, abandoned and exposed to drug abuse problems on a major scale. There will be no solution to this problem without a radical reconstruction of that sub-culture and its environment. Certainly, the institutions of the State will continue to enforce more laws (zero tolerance has again been mooted as a solution) and there will continue to be much good work done by gardai on the supply side. My basic premise is that there has to be a very deliberate effort made to reduce demand and to create circumstances and an environment which will limit, if not eliminate, the rise of a fresh demand. The arrival in 1996 of a new Dublin city manager, Mr John Fitzgerald, and a new CEO for the Eastern Health Board, Mr P.J. Fitzpatrick, created a new dynamic and pragmatic approach to the kind of social and environmental reconstruction required. Projects of the nature of the proposals for Ballymun and the north inner city, coupled with the tremendous efforts of the Eastern Health Board to provide local clinics to support efforts to assist in the recovery of those addicted, will yield results. On the supply side, gardai are continuing to achieve major successes. The worthy and worthwhile efforts of these individual organisations must be fused to the work of all State and voluntary organisations with a role in that level of society directly affected by the drugs culture. More particularly, all of these activities must be geared and directed to supporting the community in taking responsibility for, and dealing with, the problems of that community, of which the drug problem is an effect, and not a cause. There must be a very focused approach to this issue by Government and its constituent organisations and agencies, allied to the voluntary bodies, and all this effort combined with the required community engagement and commitment. There must also be an involvement by the business community, particularly small business interests operating in the area to provide worthwhile opportunities for young people. If necessary, a single person could be given an overall co-ordinating role. The solution to the drugs problem does not lie in the direction of law enforcement only - decades of committed Garda activity and good results still leave the demand side intact. There has to be a three-point approach to the resolution of the problem: 1. Treatment and rehabilitation of addicts. 2. The enforced co-ordination of State, voluntary bodies and community efforts at local level. 3. The reconstruction of both the physical and the psychological environment of people in the area affected. All this is possible and could result in the creation of a single-tier society in this State in the 21st century. I cannot think of a more worthy millennium project.