The Irish Times view on the drugs strategy: A call to action

Agencies working with drug users complain of inadequate support from Department of Health

Legislation, investment and work by the Road Safety Authority and the Garda Síochána last year helped to reduce the number of people killed on our roads to 149.

During the same period, however, five times as many individuals died directly as a result of drug abuse, not counting the murders perpetrated by competing gangland criminals. This stark call for Government action cannot be ignored.

Voluntary agencies involved in the treatment and rehabilitation of drug users complain of a shortage of funding and inadequate support from the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive.

And, in an unprecedented development, nine former ministers with experience of drug policy last week called on Government to restore confidence in the national drugs strategy. They advocated greater community involvement and additional investment. One said she was “tired of going to funerals”.


Local communities must be recruited to fight substance abuse and addiction

There have been changes to the way drugs are supplied. They remain available for purchase on street corners and in pubs, but are also widely available online. Gardaí and treatment centres report a dramatic increase in drug-taking throughout the State, reflecting a rapidly growing economy and rising incomes.

Cocaine use, which represented a major social threat in 2007, has returned with a vengeance, spreading its malign influence through rural and urban areas.

Twelve years ago, cocaine was viewed as a relatively safe recreational drug, used within the financial sector and by glamorous and well-to-do people at dinner parties in expensive suburbs.

The harsh reality, however, was exposed by six cocaine-related deaths that were reviewed at the Dublin Coroners Court during a single day in 2006. Today, the use of this drug is ubiquitous, from Donegal to Wexford, with farmers as likely to be addicted as city dwellers. The same holds true for heroin and for those addicted to crack-cocaine.

Cavan is said to have a big opiate/heroin problem, while an increasing number of drug arrests in Letterkenny, Limerick, Cork and Castlebar reflect the extent of abuse there. Treatment facilities are inadequate, particularly in rural districts.

When voluntary and statutory agencies warn of a growing problem that is destroying individuals and communities and the Government provides an additional €1m in 2019, something is very wrong. Heroin and cocaine with a street value of €4m was seized in Dublin last month while, in Louth, a cannabis seizure of €3.2m has since been made.

Responding to this threat, local communities must be recruited to fight substance abuse and addiction. Additional State funding is critical. Many users behave as if their private habits are divorced from criminal activity. It is not so. Prosecutions, followed by terms of community service, could be the most effective response.