Speeches

Speech by Micheál Martin T.D., Minister of Health and Childeren on the launch of the Rutland Centre´s Addiction Awareness Week

Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to have been invited to launch the Rutland Centre´s Addiction Awareness Week on this their 25th Anniversary. The theme this year is Addiction: A growing threat to relationships – Exploring Pathways to change and empowerment

I want to begin by thanking the Centre for organising this lecture series and I wish to acknowledge the valuable work performed by the Rutland Centre over the last 25 years.

Since its foundation by the late Father Raphael Short in 1978, the Centre has provided vital treatment for all forms of addiction, including alcohol, drug, gambling and food addiction.

Alcohol Consumption

In the last decade, Ireland has had the highest increase in alcohol consumption among EU countries. Between 1989 and 2001, alcohol consumption per capita in Ireland increased by 49% while ten of the European Union Member States showed a decrease and three other countries showed a modest increase during the same period.

The pattern of drinking is also significant. There is a continuum of problems, which can affect everyone across the community. This continuum ranges from a once off problem – a fall, an accident, a fight, unprotected sex or violence to a recurring problem such as poor school / work performance, financial hardship, relationship difficulties, chronic illness (cancer, liver damage) and to a sustained dependence.

As well as the negative impact on health, alcohol misuse impacts on many other areas of our society. Alcohol is estimated to be associated with at least 30% of all road accidents and 40% of all fatal accidents. The financial impact on our economy is also significant as a result of costs such as healthcare, road accidents, alcohol-related crime and lost productivity. In a paper commissioned as part of the European Comparative Alcohol Study, the resource cost of alcohol-related problems in Ireland in 1999 was estimated at close to €2.4 billion.

Alcohol Policy

National policy on the treatment of alcohol misuse stipulates that the emphasis in the management of alcohol-related problems should be on community-based intervention rather than on in-patient treatment. However, the number of admissions to psychiatric hospitals and units for those suffering from alcohol related problems continues to be high. In 2001, the latest year for which comprehensive figures are available, a total of 4,366 alcohol related admissions were made to psychiatric hospitals and units out of a total of 24,446. This represented 17.85% of all admissions. This high figure is a matter of grave concern.

Treatment Facilities

Alternative treatment facilities in the community will continue to be developed in order to reduce the level of admissions. It is acknowledged, however, that there will continue to be a need for detoxification facilities in hospitals and a number of residential places in facilities such as the Rutland Centre for people who for whatever reason, cannot benefit from day programmes. Health boards provide and continue to develop a range of comprehensive community-based support services appropriate to the needs of persons affected and afflicted by alcohol misuse. These services include family support and community, medical and social services in the management of the problem. Health boards are also considering ways in which services provided by voluntary and/or private facilities might integrate with the health boards´ services and a number of the boards have made local arrangements to enable access to specialist inpatient treatment in the cases where the need arises.

The main therapeutic tools in the treatment of alcohol dependence are psychotherapy, counselling, family and marital therapy, either individually or in group settings. These are all provided by the Rutland Centre.

Theme of Addiction Awareness Week

The theme for the Addiction Awareness Week is Addiction: A growing threat to relationships. This is a well chosen theme, since the negative consequences of addiction extend far beyond the person addicted. Addiction impacts on the entire community be they family members, neighbours, work colleagues, or victims of violence or crime. Addiction therefore is a problem not just for the individual addicted, but also for society as a whole.

Of course, it is possible to respond to the challenge posed by our increasing addiction problems in a substantive and meaningful way.

In relation to alcohol misuse, a number of measures are being taken by the Health Promotion Unit in my Department including:

  • A Strategic Task Force on Alcohol which was established in January 2002 to recommend specific, evidence based measures to Government to prevent and reduce alcohol related harm.
  • An inter-Departmental Group has been established to co-ordinate the responses of Departments to the Task Force recommendations.
  • Legislation
    One of the recommendations of the Task Force concerns limiting the exposure of children and adolescents to alcohol marketing. Government approval has been granted for the drafting of legislation which will enable me, as Minister for Health and Children to introduce regulations to control alcohol advertising, sponsorship and marketing practices / sales promotions. The primary aim of the legislation is to protect children and reduce the pressure on adolescents to drink.

 

  • Alcohol Awareness Campaign
    An Alcohol Awareness Campaign entitled Think Before You Drink -Less is More is now in its third year. The central aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of alcohol-related problems as a public health issue and to highlight results of recent research findings which demonstrated the extent of such problems and to raise these issues for public debate.

National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008

In response to the growing problem of drug misuse the National Drugs Strategy was launched in 2001. The main objective of the Strategy is “to significantly reduce the harm caused to individuals and society by the misuse of drugs through a concerted focus on supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research”. It provides a comprehensive, co-ordinated approach to tackling the problem of drug misuse in Ireland and sets out 100 individual actions towards achieving this end.

The National Drugs Strategy also recognises that prevention is better than cure. Several of the Actions identified in the Strategy focus on the importance of substance misuse prevention programmes in schools and of general awareness raising in relation to the dangers posed by drugs. In line with the Strategy, a major National Drug Awareness campaign Drugs: There are answers was launched by me in May of this year.

The aim of this campaign is to inform and in some cases re-inform the general public as to the “facts” about drugs and the drugs question. It is a fact that having the right information can help you make better choices and decisions and also facilitate communication. When we have the right information we feel more confident not just in talking about drugs but doing so in an open and informed way.

Partnership

Voluntary Organisations such as the Rutland Centre are very important to the provision of addiction services. It is a strength of our strategies that voluntary and statutory bodies can work together so that a wider range of treatment options are available.

Conclusion

These long term initiatives illustrate the Government´s ongoing commitment to preventing and combating alcohol and drug addiction in this country. The initiatives underline the vital importance of awareness raising in relation to addiction. Addiction Awareness Week is perfectly designed to do this. Once again I would like to commend the Rutland Centre for organising this worthwhile event and to congratulate them on 25 years of valuable work in the field of addiction treatment.