Drug seizures have little effect

Despite record numbers of drug seizures by An Garda Síochána and customs officials in 2006, there has been no noticeable impact on the availability or price of drugs, or on the numbers of drug users in the country, according to Tony Geoghan of Merchant's Quay drug treatment centre in Dublin. John O'Connor of the Drug Treatment Centre Board says, “Drugs seem to be as available as ever”.



An Garda Síochána puts the provisional value of all drugs seized last year at close to €74m. This compares with over €8m in 2000. At that time, the projected target for 2008 was €12m.

Minster for Justice Michael McDowell has praised the increase of drug seizures and believes that measures like Operation Anvil and Operation Oak “continue to dismantle drug-trafficking networks”. He described a raid last year in which 30kg of heroin was seized as a significant breakthrough. But in reality the seizures have little effect on the supply of drugs. John O'Connor believes that “the best customs in the world will only pick up 10 per cent”. This widely-held view would mean that the quantities of drugs seized in Ireland are only a fraction of the drugs coming into the country.

Rather than a war on drugs, which is a key part of the “Agreed Programme for Government”, Tony Geoghan thinks there are better ways to change the pattern of drug use in Ireland. He says that the money allocated to the Garda National Drugs Unit and other anti-drug trafficking measures, as well on as actions like increasing prison sentences, would be better spent on treatment, prevention and education.

Johnny Connolly of the Health Research Board, who works closely with An Garda Síochána, says the National Drugs Strategy uses Garda drug seizures as an indicator of availability. But, he argues, that purity and price are vital issues that are not sufficiently examined, as they would provide valuable information about the impact of Garda measures.

While the number of heroin addicts in Dublin has remained relatively stable in recent years, at around 14,500, those working on the front line of drug treatment in smaller towns outside the capital have seen heroin availability actually quadruple, particularly on the Eastern Seaboard.

While heroin users have centres like Merchant's Quay, Geoghan believes the middle class users of cocaine who may want to seek treatment would not be able to “relate to the set-up” in these locations.

By Tom Rowe