Dáil Éireann - Volume 614 - 08 February, 2006
Written Answers. - National Drugs Strategy.
Mr. Rabbitte Mr. Rabbitte
116. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the recent college lifestyle and attitudinal national survey that showed that drug use among the student population was much higher than in the 2003 national drug prevalence survey; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that 37% of those surveyed used cannabis and 8% had used ecstasy; the efforts he is making to address growing drug use by young people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4434/06]
Mr. N. Ahern Mr. N. Ahern
Mr. N. Ahern: I am aware of the college lifestyle and attitudinal national, CLAN, survey which was jointly carried out by the health promotion unit of the Department of Health and Children and NUI Galway in the 2002-03 academic year. A total sample of 3,259 students from universities and other third level institutions across Ireland was involved in the wide-ranging survey, where drugs was only one of many areas under focus. The focus and methodology of the survey differed from the 2002-03 drug prevalence survey carried out for the National Advisory Committee on  Drugs and the Drug and Alcohol Information and Research Unit, Northern Ireland. Also, the survey was restricted to third level students and established research suggests that this cohort is more likely to experiment with drug use than are other sections of society. Therefore the results of the two surveys are not directly comparable and would not be expected to throw up the same figures. However, the findings are nonetheless valuable in improving our understanding of drug use among young people in Ireland.
The figures quoted by the Deputy, 37% having used cannabis and 8% having used ecstasy, reflect usage in the past 12 months. It would be expected that these figures would include many who experimented once, or at least very few times, rather than reflecting more problematic long-term or regular use.
For comparison, I gather that the usage in the past 12 months by young adults — 15-34 years — in the drug prevalence survey were 8.6% for cannabis and 2.3% for ecstasy. That survey covered 8,442 people, aged between 15 and 64 on the island of Ireland. As it was the first such survey, it provides the initial baseline data which will facilitate the identification of trends going forward. It is intended that the fieldwork for the next drug prevalence study will be carried out from around September 2006 to April 2007. Preliminary analysis will be done in the months following, with a first report of national prevalence figures and trends expected later in 2007. At that stage we will be much better placed to effectively measure any changes in the use of cannabis in Ireland.
Meanwhile the national drugs strategy contains 108 actions which cover all aspects of drug use, included various age strata and drug types. The national drugs awareness campaign, the second and third phase of which were targeted at young people, has been running over the past three years and all schools now have substance misuse prevention programmes on their curricula.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
117. Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on whether a change to the law regarding the possession of cannabis, or a reclassification of the drug, would be of benefit in regard to tackling drug use here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4433/06]
Mr. N. Ahern Mr. N. Ahern
Mr. N. Ahern: It is my view that a change in the law regarding the possession of cannabis, or a reclassification of the drug would be of no benefit whatsoever in tackling drug use here — in fact I think that it would aggravate the problem.
While cannabis may not be as dangerous as some other drugs, the evidence is that it is damaging to the physical and mental health of the user, particularly the young and those who are heavy  users. Long-term cannabis use can trigger mental illness such as schizophrenia and depression in some cases. While it is sometimes said that cannabis does not lead to the use of other illegal drugs, this is untrue. It is clear that by using cannabis people can become involved and immersed in the drug culture. Evidence shows that the majority of young people who have used a variety of illegal substances have begun with cannabis.
Taking all this into account, I am satisfied that there is no case for reviewing the current legal position in relation to cannabis.
Dáil Éireann 614 Written Answers. National Drugs Strategy.