It was a case of ‘tell us something we don’t know’ when the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs launched a study into substance abuse in Athlone last week.
Minister Pat Carey earned a stern rebuke from ordinary people dealing with chronic drugs problems in Westmeath when he said the Midland Regional Drugs Task Force’s study was a “wake-up call for anybody who is thinking that the issue of drugs is gone away”.
According to the report 76 people in the Midlands died as a result of drugs between 1998 and 2005 and the study shows that 1,016 people were assessed or treated for drugs problems in Westmeath between 2004 and 2007.
Athlone town councillor Jim Henson said it was “frightening” to hear the minister speak of wake-up calls. “We’ve had those reports,” said the volunteer with the Athlone Drugs Awareness group. “I was hoping he’d come with better news than that today.”
“I was hoping the minister was going to announce a rehab centre, a detox centre, not acknowledge, and accept six month waiting lists for methadone.”
The report, which explores the views of service users, families, and service providers in four unnamed towns, one each in Laois, Offaly, Westmeath, and Longford, carries a raft of recommendations including the need for services for under-18s, for detox and methadone services, rehab, aftercare and education.
The report shows that 36% of Westmeath cases treated involved more than one drug problem, with cannabis used by more than half of those.
A local service provider is quoted in the report as saying that cannabis is “a terrible thing” for young people.
“I’ve seen so many kids – and I’m not just talking about kids from that poor area. I mean the decent-est of families, well to do families, and the kids, if they start taking hash when they’re 13 or 14, you can almost bet they’ll drop out before they do the leaving.”
The report shows that drug use and drug treatment have increased and so has drug related crime.
“There was no agreement on what was the most problematic substance in the community,” the report states.
However, “both alcohol and drugs are considered the cause of major problems in the community.”
The report went on to say that “the situation is getting worse”, partly because of the “relatively easy local access to licit and illict drugs and drug use is “normalized” within the community.
Alcohol was the main problem substance for those seeking treatment in Westmeath, but there were “several reports of near-fatal and fatal” drugs overdoses.
“The catalyst for most people getting involved in drugs is early introduction to alcohol,” the minister said, promising that action would be taken to deal with the problem.
He said two treatment centres will be developed in the region in the future.