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Speech for Minister Martin at the Launch of the National Drugs Awareness Campaign

Published: 15 May 2003
From: Department of Health and Minister for Health

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Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm very glad to welcome you all to this occasion, the culmination of so many months hard work.

Recently, our President said that the time had come for us to rethink attitudes. She referred to the fact that Ireland has gone though a period of promise and potential like no other in our history, and she highlighted the many positive things that have come from that experience. She also pointed out the dark side – the fact that side by side with our increased standard of living, there is still what she described as “the course of misery and malaise so utterly unnecessary that we need to re-imagine an Ireland grown intolerant of behaviour which it has too benignly overlooked for too long”.

I agree with the President. The historic abuse of alcohol in our country, and in more recent times the growing abuse of illegal drugs, are both scourges. They add massive costs to our society, and undermine our national reputation and international image. They hold us back in all sorts of ways. But much more than that, they blight and destroy lives especially, and increasingly, young lives.

While it is difficult to define clear cut trends in drugs use, recent national and local population surveys show that drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and amphetamines are all widely used especially among our young people. And while major progress has been made in tackling the heroin problem, this drug still remains a blight on our society.

There is, of course, no single answer to the drugs problem. By the same token, there is no single message we can send out that will persuade young people to turn their backs on all forms of experimentation with drugs. As Minister of State Ahern has explained, our national drugs strategy is composed of many different elements. And the task of tackling the drugs issue is set out in one hundred actions, under the four pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research. More specifically this strategy called for the development of a “national awareness campaign to highlight the facts about drug misuse – which would aim to facilitate informed, open and constructive discussion on approaches to drug prevention”. Today marks the first step in this process and I am delighted to launch this, the crucial first stage of the campaign.

That said, I certainly don´t believe, and I would not expect anyone else to believe, that we can solve the drugs problem in Ireland through an advertising campaign alone. We know that advertising alone cannot prevent young people from exploring different aspects of life, or that an individual who has spent ten years battling with heroin addiction upon seeing the advertisement will immediately seek treatment. No, this campaign has an entirely different aim. A recent Health Research Board survey showed that three out of every four Irish people don´t have enough information, or have the wrong information about drugs. Our task in developing this campaign was to inform and in some cases re-inform the general public as to the “facts” about drugs and the drugs question. It is a fact that having the right information can help you make better choices and decisions and also facilitate communication. When we have the right information we feel more confident not just in talking about drugs but doing so in an open and informed way.

I strongly believe that the more aware we are of the wide range of issues surrounding drugs, the better chance we have of preventing their spread. And the development of awareness has to encompass far more than one target audience, and has to seek to do far more than just impart information. In trying to deal with the misuse of drugs, we have to be willing to encourage dialogue -between parents and children, within families, among friends. We shouldn’t underestimate the influence that adults, and particularly parents, can have in this regard. We have to try to get the issues of drugs misuse and its consequences more out into the open, to encourage people to talk about them, to seek out information, to get professional advice if they suspect a problem.

So with this campaign we’re launching today, we aim to create discussion not just in the public arena but in homes, schools and workplaces across Ireland. Our aim is to stimulate debate. We want people to ask themselves how they would respond in a variety of situations involving drugs, how they would set about discussing issues and problems with their children and with their friends, how they would get access to information and help if they felt they needed it. As you will see from the ads themselves, they are aimed at encouraging that sort of approach.

The reality, as we know, is that “just say no” has been tried and doesn't work. Shutting our eyes to problems, whether they are in our own homes or in the community around us, doesn't work either.

I believe that the investment we will make in this advertising campaign, and in the brochure and other resources that will accompany it, will pay dividends. We intend to monitor carefully the public’s response, and to fine tune the messages to the degree necessary. But the underlying message of the campaign is a hopeful one. There may be no single answer, but there is help out there. Facts, information, counselling, advice, resources are all there, and part of our objective in the campaign is to help people find them when they need them.

In the last decade or so as we learned more about drug use and misuse, it became clear that any viable response to Ireland´s drug issues has got to recognise the complexity of the problem facing us. It is not just about the drugs that are being used, it is not just about the people who use the drugs, nor indeed is it about the areas or environments in which the drug taking happens. Different drugs, used by different people in different age groups in different settings create different problems that require different answers. I recently launched the second phase report of the National Health and Lifestyle Surveys which, among other behaviour and lifestyle issues, examines drug use among children and adults. These surveys, repeated at four yearly intervals, allow us to identify population behaviours and develop health promotion interventions and initiatives to combat this. This invaluable data provides us with a road map by which we can monitor trends and plan for the future. In terms of health promotion, it allows us to identify the need for specific campaigns and then monitor the success of those campaigns in changing population behaviours. The report among other findings highlighted increased cannabis use among boys aged between 15 and 17 years across all social groupings and among girls of the same age in social class 2.

Figures like these reinforce our commitment to developing campaigns like this National Drugs Awareness Campaign. In the world of health promotion we try and create supportive environments where making the healthier choice becomes the easier choice. For that reason, we have used the slogan “There are Answers” as the theme for this campaign. We recognise that there is no single answer to the drugs problem and we wish to ensure that people are encouraged to keep looking for the most appropriate solution for them. Individual problems require individual solutions and as is reflected in the National Drugs Strategy, this campaign also adopts a multi-sectoral approach to solving these individual problems. To that end the development of this campaign has been based on dialogue and partnership. Throughout the development of the campaign the Health Promotion Unit of my department have been in consultation with the Garda Síochana, other governmental departments, with the voluntary sector, with the health boards. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved for their commitment to the campaign and also for their commitment to finding solutions to this problem. If the campaign succeeds in getting a dialogue started around the different scenarios we have developed, it will in my view represent a major step forward.

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