Task force unveiled to deal with drug abuse in higher education

Minister of State Mary Mitchell O’Connor says statistics on student drug use anecdotal

Minister of State with responsibility for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said  “some students are suffering serious harm. Some are dying and lives are shattered.” File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

Minister of State with responsibility for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said “some students are suffering serious harm. Some are dying and lives are shattered.” File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

 

The details of a new task force to deal with drug and substance abuse within higher education institutions have been unveiled by Minister of State Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

“I have spent a huge amount of time meeting students, their parents and the people working at all levels in our higher education institutions,” she said.

“From all these discussions, it became clear to me that while some good work is being done at institution level, we were not doing enough in a planned and joined up way across the sector to counteract the negative impact of drug and substance abuse.

“Some students are suffering serious harm. Some are dying and lives are shattered. We all have a responsibility to protect and educate students and parents.”

Ms Mitchell O’Connor, who is Minister of State for Higher Education, said she was taking a two strand approach to the issue.

“Initially I am setting up a group of experts, including academics, gardaí, students and first responders within institutions, who are going to consider what the key issues that are facing us are, and what the solutions will be,” she said.

“They are going to report back to me within eight weeks. I have also convened an extensive data gathering exercise for all higher education institutions which will be led by Dr Michael Byrne in UCC.

“Currently statistics on drug use among students are anecdotal and I want a clear and accurate account as to what we are dealing with.”

The rapid response group she has tasked with devising an action plan to deal with drug and substance abuse within the country’s higher education institutions will be chaired by Dr Andrew Power, registrar and the vice president of Equality and Diversity, The Institute of Art Design and Technology.

Other members of the group will include Dr Byrne, Head of Student Health Department, UCC; Dr Eamon Keenan, National Clinical Lead-Addiction Services, National Social Inclusion Office, HSE; Paul Moriarty, Director of Student Experience, UCC; Mai Fanning, president, National Parents Council Post Primary; John Hannon, Director of Student Services, NUI Galway; Fr Ben Hughes, chaplain, NUI Galway; Róisín O’Donovan, vice president Welfare Officer, USI; Jimmy McGovern, Seas Suas Programme Manager, NUI Galway; John O’Driscoll, Assistant Commissioner, Special Crime Operations, An Garda Síochána; Orla McPartlin, Assistant Commissioner, Community Engagement and Public Safety; Roisin O’ Connell, Head of Communications, THEA; Lia O’Sullivan, Communications and Projects Manager, IUA; Dr Jo-Hanna Ivers, Assistant Professor in Addiction, TCD; Professor Mary Cannon, Psychiatrist, RCSI; Terry Twomey, VP Academic Affairs and Registrar, LIT; Meabh McGuinness, Education Project Manager, HSE (Healthy Ireland); Gertie Raftery, chairperson, Psychological Councillors in Higher Education Ireland; and Nicki Killeen, Development Worker, National Social Inclusion Office, HSE.