Speech by Minister Catherine Byrne at the Launch of Monaghan Drugs and Alcohol Strategy 2017-2021
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am delighted to be here with you this morning in the Iontas Centre, Castleblayney to launch the Monaghan Drugs and Alcohol Strategy 2017-2021.
Firstly, I would like to thank Bernie Bradley, Social Inclusion Development officer for inviting me to launch this strategy. I would also like to thank the many people who contributed to the development of the Monaghan Drugs and Alcohol Strategy that we are here to launch today.
I would especially like to thank the staff of the centre for their great hospitality and warm welcome this morning.
Substance misuse continues to be one of the most significant challenges facing our country. We are all aware of the damaging consequences of substance misuse and the harm it causes to individuals, families and the wider community. Directly or indirectly, every community is affected by drug abuse and addiction.
Since my appointment as Minister for Communities and the National Drugs Strategy, I have met with many individuals, families, groups and organisations. It’s clear to me that the drug and alcohol problem affects people from all walks of life and has touched most families in Ireland.
One person dies every day in this country as a result of a drug overdose. Many more die as an indirect result of taking drugs through accidents, suicide, illness or disease. These deaths result in untold misery and suffering for the family members left behind.
We will be hearing about many of these harmful consequences today as I understand that the Gardai will offer a picture of how drugs and alcohol affect local communities. This will be followed by a presentation from Cavan hospital on how drugs and alcohol are impacting on our Emergency services.
As many of you will know, I come from a strong community background myself. Living and working in my own local community in Dublin has given me a real insight into the impact of drug and alcohol misuse on the lives of ordinary people.
There can be no doubt that substance misuse is a complex and challenging issue with no “quick fixes” or “simple solutions”. However, the Government is committed to stepping up the effort to address the problem. As recognised by the new Monaghan Drugs and Alcohol Strategy, this requires a whole of society response involving all of the stakeholders working together in an integrated way.
As the consultation process here in Monaghan highlighted, there is a need to better support children and young people who may be at risk of developing drug problems.
We need to intervene early, so that young people who are experimenting with drugs and alcohol can access the services they need before an addiction problem develops.
Young people also need to have places they can go outside of school hours – to take part in sport – or other activities such as the arts.
Our latest drug prevalence figures indicate that levels of illegal drug use have risen in Ireland between 2010 and 2015. Sadly, the use of illegal drugs in the last year is highest amongst those aged 15 to 24 and higher amongst young males than females.
These findings strongly suggest that there is a continuing need for preventative measures that focus on young people, particularly young men, their families and communities.
Building the confidence and social skills of young people so that they can make healthier lifestyle choices will continue to be an important part of drugs strategies. The planned roll out of the new Wellbeing Programme at junior cycle is a vital part of this effort.
Other groups highlighted in the Monaghan Drugs and Alcohol Strategy include the Travelling community, ethnic minority groups, those without a home and people who also have mental health problems. These groups of people have multiple interlocking needs and often face huge barriers in accessing services. A lack of transport, the absence of childcare facilities or cultural reasons can be reasons why some people do not access the services they need when they need them.
We also know that it is not just illegal substances that are affecting our communities, but also the abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs.
When we talk about the drug problem, alcohol is often described as the “elephant in the room”.
As many of you know, the Government is committed to putting a new National Drugs Strategy in place this year to provide a response to these issues. It is expected that the new Strategy will build on the harm reduction approach of previous policies.
In the meantime, reflecting the Government’s commitment to tackling the drug problem, an additional €3 million in funding has been allocated to the HSE this year to improve addiction services across the country. The increased budget includes funding for more detox places and improved access to treatment services for under 18s
In developing the new Strategy, we have been engaged in a wide-ranging national consultation and I can tell you that many of the concerns raised here in Monaghan are reflected in feedback from all around the country.
It is my intention that the new Strategy will help us to more effectively measure how we are dealing with the problem of substance misuse as a society. The Department of Health is developing a new performance measurement system which will be key to this approach.
The new system will provide us with a map of the country that will help to identify those areas of the country that face the highest risk of substance misuse problems. This will help us to better target the resources that we have and direct interventions to those who need them most.
I hope that over time this will also be a useful tool for your forum. I believe a drugs strategy should be a dynamic process with the possibility to adapt and re-adjust as necessary, to address changing trends.
A lot of work has gone into building the evidence base for the new Strategy and I would encourage the forum to discuss the new policy once it is published to ensure that your work is linked to and supported by the evidence of what works.
Finally, I hope that we can all continue to work together to improve the health, wellbeing and quality of life for all the people that are affected by drugs and alcohol in our communities and wider society.
We must all play our part in ensuring that people know where to come for help.