Senator Black calls for Alcohol treatment services from new Minister Corcoran Kennedy
Alcohol misuse in Ireland is an issue about which I am passionate. For the benefit of the Minister, I will repeat the data I read into the record during yesterday's Order of Business, as set out in the Health Research Board's national alcohol survey. More than 150,000 Irish people are dependent drinkers; more than 1.35 million people are harmful drinkers, and 30% of people interviewed said they had experienced some form of harm as a result of their drinking. The survey also reveals that 75% of alcohol consumed in Ireland is consumed while binge drinking and that we underestimate what we drink by about 60%. There is a massive unmet need in this area. Alcohol-dependent individuals need psychosocial intervention and therapy, and hazardous drinkers need brief interventions to minimise the chances of their progressing to dependency. It is important to make that point.
I would like to provide some more facts and figures from the survey, because they are quite shocking. Some 88 deaths every month in Ireland, or three per day, are directly attributable to alcohol, which is frightening. There are almost twice as many alcohol-related deaths as there are deaths as a result of all other drugs combined. Nine hundred people in Ireland are diagnosed with alcohol-related cancers and around 500 people die from these diseases every year. Alcohol is a factor in half of all suicides in Ireland. We know we have a huge problem with suicide, but the fact that alcohol is involved in half of all suicides is horrendous. Alcohol is also involved in over one third of cases of deliberate self-harm, peaking around weekends and public holidays. More than 14,000 people were admitted to the liver unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital for treatment due to alcohol dependence in 2011. Every day, 1,500 beds in our hospitals are occupied by people with alcohol-related problems. Alcohol-related illness cost the health care system €800 million in 2013.
These are a few of the stark figures from the Health Research Board’s survey on alcohol harm. Behind those figures are thousands of family members who require support and guidance in dealing with the stress, anxiety and heartbreak of a having a loved one with an alcohol problem. For a concerned family member or a person identified as having an alcohol misuse problem, accessing services is difficult, which is my concern. The first port of call for people who are anxious that their loved one might have an alcohol problem, or who themselves might have an alcohol problem, is the Internet. The website provided by the HSE, www.drugs.ie, is amazing. I commend all the people involved in its operation. I did a search of that website, specifically looking for supports that specialise in alcohol dependency, and found that the only services available in counties Donegal, Galway, Wicklow, Limerick, Cork and Wexford were Alcoholics Anonymous and Alateen, which we all know are peer-to-peer support groups. Based on the startling and worrying facts linked to alcohol misuse, this is a very worrying indication of the lack of support we are offering our citizens. In not offering early interventions, we are prolonging the agony for the people involved and their families and we are allowing the problem to escalate over time, increasing the heartache for all concerned, as well as giving the HSE a much larger and more difficult problem to deal with in the future.
A report commissioned in 2007 by the HSE, chaired by Professor Des Corrigan from Trinity College Dublin, found that there is severe under-provision of residential places. The report also recommended that mixed treatment for alcohol and other substances should be considered more or less on a county-by-county basis, with input from service providers. We know the benefits of alcohol-only services over mixed-substance services in some settings. I suggest that a minimum number of treatment places be set aside for alcohol services and that the ratio of alcohol-only services to mixed-substance services should be discussed by all involved in treatment. Funding should be earmarked for these services.The national drug strategy is being rewritten and is due for completion by the end of the year. My concern is that if alcohol is not included, it will be forgotten. Funding for that needs to be included in the Estimates that are being put together in advance of the budget in October. As the Minister of State knows better than I, a great deal of alcohol-related harm is hidden and does not reach the public realm. I refer to self-harm, gender-based abuse, physical abuse, sickness, absence from work and economic desolation. The published harms represent a minimum level; the levels relating to real harms are higher. Will the Minister of State provide an overview on what support the State offers to those who have problems with alcohol and, in particular, their families?