Addicts' families have crucial role in combating drugs, President says


The families of drug addicts have a crucial role in the search for solutions to the drugs problem, the President, Mrs McAleese, told an anti-drugs conference in Dublin.

The weekend conference, organised by the Ballymun Youth Action Project on community and partnership responses to drug misuse, was attended by 200 people from Ireland and Britain. It was organised as part of Ireland's involvement in European Drug Prevention Week.

Mrs McAleese said parents and siblings of addicts had an important and crucial role to play and could offer significant insights on how best to deal with the menace of drugs in their communities.

She said that members of anti-drugs groups had a strong desire to be "ambassadors and evangelists", but their work was often hindered by an attitude of "It's not my problem".

She said it would be a very brave or very stupid person who would say: "This problem will never touch my family."

Drug-dealers were a very cruel, very wicked, very immoral enemy who nonetheless often presented themselves to young people as a friendly face. For that reason, we might "have to teach our kids that our friends can also be our enemies", she said.

"We never see these faceless people whose business is drugs, and they never see the consequences of what they do other than their own lavish lifestyle."

The addicts' families were left to pick up the pieces and had to try to reconstruct their lives.

However, groups like the Ballymun Local Drugs Task Force were turning the frustrations and anguish of a community which had been deeply affected by drugs into a constructive and potent response to the scourge of heroin misuse.

The President said the importance of drug education and awareness programmes could not be overstated, particularly when they were delivered by or involved people from the local community.

Partnership approaches to the drugs problem and other issues which arose around the country had transformed communities and given them a new level of self-confidence which allowed them to reach out for bigger and better things.

The Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Mr Chris Flood, told the conference that the pace of modern life and the huge pressures faced by young people had contributed to a situation where progressively more and more young people were presenting to the treatment services with a drug addiction problem.

He added that while heroin was primarily a Dublin problem and had not manifested itself to any significant degree in other parts of the country, there was a need to remain extremely vigilant. The experience of other countries had been that the nature and extent of the drug problem had the capacity to change quickly and without warning.

Mr Flood said a history of insufficient consultation, co-operation and integration between organisations in the statutory sector was still one of the major stumbling blocks to the effectiveness of initiatives aimed at tackling economic deprivation and severe social problems.

The establishment of the area-based partnerships had been a recognition that national policies, although largely successful, were often not impacting on the most needy and marginalised. Measures such as the Integrated Services Project were helping to ensure a more focused and better co-ordinated response by the statutory authorities.

The Local Drugs Task Force initiative had seen communities work in partnership with health boards, local authorities and the Garda, even though the relations between those communities and the agencies had been in most cases poor and in some cases hostile.