Drugs taskforce has bigger brief on fraction of money

The budget of the unit dedicated to tackling drug and alcohol addiction in the West of Ireland has been slashed during the recession.

Ten years ago, the Western Region Drugs Taskforce had an annual budget of €1.3 million to deliver services in Galway city and county, Roscommon, and Mayo.

But, despite alcohol being added to its brief (since 2014 it is known as the Western Region Drugs and Alcohol Taskforce), the organisation now receives an annual budget of just €660,000.

This 50% budget cut came despite a marked increase in the use of heroin in Galway City, and the country’s ongoing problematic relationship with alcohol.

The severe cuts were revealed at the Galway City Joint Policing Committee, where WRDTF co-ordinator Micheál Durkin gave members an overview of the services being offered by the taskforce.

The area covered by WRDTF is the equivalent to a fifth of the area of Ireland; and the issues in the city, are not the same as those in rural Galway, or Roscommon and Mayo, he said.

Its resources and staff, which includes three community liaison officers, and two drugs education support workers, are spread thinly  across the counties.

JPC members were appalled by the cuts, and unanimously passed a motion, proposed by City Councillor Donal Lyons (Ind), calling on the HSE West and the Department of Health, to restore the budget to €1.3 million incrementally over the next three years.

Mr Durkin declined to say what impacts the cuts has had on the service but he said if its budget was restored the WRDTF would be in a position to have a more ‘hands-on’ approach. A bigger budget, he said, would allow the taskforce to engage in the ‘front-line provision’ of services for drugs abusers, in partnership with the HSE.

Mr Durkin confirmed to the meeting that some 300 heroin addicts are using the methadone clinic in Galway City. Some 30 GPs have licences to administer the heroin replacement drug, also.

These figures tally with what Garda Chief Superintendent Tom Curley has told previous meetings, when he noted “worrying” increases in heroin use in the city.

City Councillor Frank Fahy (FG) said alcohol was the “biggest drug of choice” in Galway. Over-consumption, he said, was “getting out of hand”.

The former mayor said the problem was so bad, and was causing long-term health and societal issues, that Ireland should consider increasing the legal age limit to consume alcohol from 18 to 21.

Director of Services Joe O’Neill agreed alcohol misuse was a “huge problem”; and alcohol was a “gateway” to using illegal drugs.

He pointed out that Arthur’s Day was highlighted as a problem at JPC meetings and now it is gone – similar collective action was needed to tackle the various aspects of the problem, he said.

Chief Supt Curley, in his crime statistics’ Garda report to the meeting, outlined the successes Galway Gardaí have had in confiscating illegal drugs.

In the first eight months of the year, there were 69 detections for drugs for sale or supply in the city – up one compared with last year. There were 142 incidents of ‘simple possession’ of drugs in that period to the end of August, one less than the same period last year.

Cannabis with a street value of more than €200,000 was seized in Galway in the first eight months of the year – these were mostly from grow houses, he said.

Some €105,000 worth of ecstasy tablets were seized. Other seizures included cocaine (€9,550), heroin (€14,550), and other (€2,390).