Dublin South West TD, Seán Crowe, who is a member of the local Drug Task Force, has said that he is baffled at the news that the number of primary care addiction counsellors for the Dublin South West, Kildare, and West Wicklow area has been steadily reduced at a time when the drug problem is so prevalent. The number of counsellors posts in this region has been has been reduced from 36 to 23 in the last 11 years.

The Sinn Féin TD believes this reduction is part of wider malaise, and a lack of Government and Ministerial leadership, when it comes to responding to Ireland’s growing addiction problems.

Deputy Seán Crowe said:

“It is incredibly worrying that at a time when we have never seen the drug addiction and the widespread availability as bad, and when open drug dealing is on your doorstep, that the amount of drug counsellors available is reducing.

“At time when we are increasingly aware of the dangers of addiction, in both a physical and mental health sense, it is disgraceful that the number of addiction counsellors in primary care centres across the State has been reduced by 30.

“Only last year, the Irish Health Research Board supplied figures to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction which noted that Ireland had the third highest drug-death rate in the EU, almost four times higher than the EU average.

“Added to this is the constant battle many face with alcohol addiction in this State. Based on the figures in the Health Research Board’s National Alcohol Diary Survey, more than 150,000 Irish people are dependent drinkers, more than 1.35 million are harmful drinkers, and 30% of people interviewed say that they experienced some form of harm as a result of their own drinking habits.

“Moreover, in recent years, gambling addiction has become one of the biggest social issues facing our society. Taking the most recent figure for the number of problem gamblers, found in the North of Ireland’s gambling prevalence survey, it is estimated that there could be close to 100,000 problem gamblers in the South of Ireland.”

Crowe continued:

“It is against this backdrop that we need to look at this reduction in addiction counsellors in primary care centres in this locality. 36 counsellors were working in the Dublin South West, Kildare, and West Wicklow area in 2006 and these posts have been reduced to 23 and a partial post in 2017.

“However throughout this period we have seen a massive increase in alleged drug debts and the increased intimidation of parents and even grandparents. Coinciding with this there has been a cut to those assigned to the Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) South Division drugs unit, which has dropped from 30 members in 2010 to 19 in 2016.

“Statistics on drug related deaths are equally stark. Between 2004 and 2014, the last year with available statistics, 6,096 people died of drug related deaths, with 697 dying in 2014 alone. That’s the equivalent of all the residents in Fettercairn dying over this 10 year period, or everyone in one of its estates like Kilmartin dying in a single year.

“A consistent pattern of cuts to resources and key personnel over the years, combined with these statistics, does not inspire any confidence or suggest that a drugs strategy is a priority from this or previous governments.

“Constantly missing from local Drugs Task Force meetings is any representation from the Department of Education, Department of Social Protection, the HSE, An Garda Síochána and many national politicians who for whatever reasons just don’t bother to attend.

“In all my years as a community and political representative I have never seen the availability of drugs as bad in communities. The Gardaí have had successes locally, but the extent of the growth and widespread availability of illegal hard drugs is beyond their limited and shrinking resources.

“The reduction in drug counsellors is part of a wider malaise and reflects a complete lack of any Government or Ministerial leadership when it comes to responding to Irelands growing addiction problems.

“Clearly all the evidence would suggest that the drug problem is going up and supports in the form of addiction counsellors is going down.”