Thursday, 15 February 1968
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Gogan: asked the Minister for Health if, in view of the public concern about a reported increase in the incidence of unauthorised drug taking amongst adolescents in this country, he can say if any early announcement of the implementation of a  comprehensive code of poisons control can be expected; and what steps are being taken to strengthen the Dangerous Drugs Acts in the light of recent court decisions.
Mr. O'Malley: I presume that the first part of the Deputy's question refers to the alleged abuse of what are commonly referred to as the “soft” drugs. The distribution of these substances is at present controlled under the Medical Preparations (Control of Sale) Regulations, 1966. However, as the Deputy is no doubt aware, I propose to strengthen the existing powers of control at the earliest opportunity by making the unauthorised possession of such substances a punishable offence.
With regard to the second part of the question, no recent court decisions implying that the Dangerous Drugs Act requires amendment have come to my notice, but if the Deputy would care to supply me with evidence which would help to clarify the matter, I shall be glad to look into it.
Mr. S. Dunne: Would the Minister say if there is any evidence of any large-scale importation or smuggling of these drugs into the country? If not, will he have that aspect of the matter examined by the appropriate authorities? Is he aware that statements have been made—one does not know whether they are true—that the incidence of the taking of “soft” drugs is greater than that which obtains in Britain? If that is so, it is a frightening thought, and can we have an assurance that he will look into the matter from the point of view of the possibility of smuggling and see that a stop will be put to this practice if it exists?
Mr. O'Malley: My Department maintains constant liaison with the Garda who supply information regularly by way of written reports and discussions on the results of their investigations and general surveillance in this field.
In addition, arrangements have been  made for obtaining such information from other sources as would help to assess the incidence of drug taking particularly amongst young people, in this country.
Mr. M. O'Leary: Could the Minister tell me whether, in fact, there is a register of drug addicts in existence? If there is a recognised register can we get the exact number of people in the country who are drug addicts in the medical sense?
Mr. O'Malley: In the sense the Deputy means I do not think there is a register per se but I know that Department of Health, in conjunction with Department of Justice officials, visit the psychiatric wards and institutions and are in touch with university people who deal with these things and keep in close contact to see what the trend is. From the information on my file there does not seem to be necessity for undue alarm but, nevertheless, the matter is being kept under very close observation. A monthly meeting takes place at which the whole position is reviewed.
Mr. M. O'Leary: Would the Minister agree that it would be an important step to get a recognised register before we can say what is the extent of this problem? I agree that it may be exaggerated but if it is possible to get a true picture of the situation in the first place you can see then the extent to which this is happening.
Mr. O'Malley: I do not know. I have my own ideas of what a register would ensure. What good is a register going to be after all? I think the Department of Health and the Department of Justice in consultation with each other and the universities and hospitals and those in charge of psychiatric institutions have a pretty good idea. As a matter of fact, from a psychological point of view, a register might do more harm than good at this stage. I am only giving my own opinion which, of course, I should not give at all.
Mr. Dillon: When I first became  Minister for Agriculture, I discovered that there was in existence an old interdepartmental committee which examined annually steps taken to prevent the possibility of a recurrence of famine. This committee, set up in 1878, was eventually dropped, since its purpose had long since ceased to exist, but in its day it had served a useful purpose because it was an interdepartmental committee of the Departments concerned with that possibility. Would the Minister for Health consider consulting the Minister for Education and the Minister for Justice as to the desirability of establishing an interdepartmental committee of that character which would meet regularly so as to inform one another of any material that might have come into their respective hands bearing on this general problem which is so rife in other countries but which I do not believe is very rife here, but which I cordially agree with the Minister for Education is better nipped in the bud? If such a permanent committee were established each Minister would be in a position to communicate to his colleagues at the earliest possible moment any alarming trend that came to his notice.
Mr. O'Malley: He might very profitably be brought in. The Deputy's suggestion appears eminently sound, but I should like to add from the note I have here that steps are in train for obtaining regular reports from psychiatric hospitals and other health institutions of the number of patients being treated for drug addiction. There is no cause for undue anxiety, but let no one feel the country is absolutely free from this menace. It is lurking somewhere in the background.
Dr. O'Connell: Is the Minister aware that there is quite an incidence  of drug addiction among people who need help and that they resort to every kind of trick to secure prescriptions from doctors or hospitals? If a register were kept it would enable these people to receive the required treatment without resorting to any subterfuge to obtain the drugs?
Mr. O'Malley: The fact that a register is kept does not mean that people who are in need of drugs as suggested by the Deputy will be given them. Such people as, in the opinion of the medical profession, are in need of such assistance at present are given the prescriptions and drugs and so on that they require.
Dr. O'Connell: The Minister will realise that it is very obvious in England that it has been found necessary there to have a similar register to control the use of these drugs and to confine them to recognised addicts who need treatment?
Mr. O'Malley: With the greatest respect, we hope to ensure in this country that such a step will not be necessary by, as Deputy Dillon said, nipping this thing in the bud or keeping  the matter under very close examination. This word “register” is used very loosely. For instance, the institutions, hospitals and so forth dealing with this problem all have their registers and case histories of each patient, which are confidential to them.
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