Fight against drug abuse needs dedicated minister, says Sinn Fein

A government minister dedicated to the fight against drug abuse is needed to help combat rocketing heroin use in Cork, Sinn Féin has warned.

The party’s TD for Cork North-Central, Jonathan O’Brien, told the Dáil that the responsibility for drugs policy was too widely distributed across departments and needed a focal point.

Mr O’Brien said he had been told by senior gardaí that there had been a recent spike in muggings and robberies in Cork, in part due to a growing drug problem.

A recent city hall meeting heard that the number of heroin addicts in Cork had risen over the past 10 years from 20 to 500.

Mr O’Brien, who recently revealed that his brother is a recovering addict, expressed alarm at the scale of the problem.

“It is estimated that, each week, there are 12 deaths from drug-related causes, with almost 5,500 deaths from drug overdoses and drug-related causes since records began in 2004,” he said.

“Eight in 10 of such deaths were of young men, with more than half having mental health issues. Communities and families are being torn apart by drug addiction and the Government’s response since taking office has been less than adequate.

“It has cut funding to drug task forces by 37%. Community support groups are struggling to deal with the issue and the growing demand placed on them with reduced resources.”

Mr O’Brien said it was not effective that drugs policy was spread across 19 government departments and agencies, and there was no specific drugs minister for the first time since 1994.

However, Tánaiste Joan Burton defended the Government’s record on drugs, saying the appointment of a dedicated minister for the issue was under review.

“The Department of Social Protection has ring-fenced 1,000 places in community employment schemes to ensure people in rehabilitation on foot of having had difficulties with addiction will have opportunities in education, training and, ultim- ately, getting involved in work,” said Ms Burton.

“I must note that there has been no reduction in resources from my department in that respect. We have kept the ring-fenced numbers and there are opportunities for more people, if they so desire, to avail of them.

“Leo Varadkar, as Minister for Health, declared a strong interest, on the health side of policy implementation, in being directly involved in the development and implementation of the drugs strategy.”


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