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Sunday, August 17, 2003

Drugs and Alcohol

The issue of drugs is one that is going to come back to the forefront of the National Assembly's agenda when we return in September. That is because the Minister for Social Justice will be presenting the Committee with her report on what treatment, rehabilitation and education is available across Wales and how she is going to spend the £18 million she has put aside for tackling substance misuse over the next three years. There is a lot that needs to be done if we are to even begin to get on top of the problem. Drugs are of course a major issue and the problem should not be under-estimated, however alcohol-abuse can be as bad and it is only the macho-drinking culture of much of Wales that masks this. I know Police Officers who have told me that they would rather face somebody high on drugs than a person fuelled up with alcohol. Drug abuse tends to lead to theft so as to feed the habit of addicts. The crime most associated with alcohol is violence. That is not to accord a greater status or priority to one above the other but it is worth thinking about nevertheless.

These thoughts have been prompted by the receipt of two reports commissioned by the Rhondda Cynon Taff Substance Misuse Action Team and produced under the NACRO Cymru banner. The reports are full of sobering facts and it is impossible to convey the full flavour of them here, however I have set out some of the headlines that will make us all stop and think. The one that made me pause for thought was to do with alcohol. The report states that a recent 'quick and dirty' survey done by RCT police showed that whenever there is a Welsh International Rugby match, violence towards women doubled, whenever Wales lost it quadrupled and when Wales lost to England it was multiplied by eight. The report identified a statistical increase in drug-related deaths from 4 per 100,000 population in RCT to 10 per 100,000 and from 2.4 per 100,000 for the whole of Wales to 4 per 100,000. Heroin or methadone is thought to be the principal drug in around 90% of drug-related deaths in RCT, many of these are due to the substances mixed in with drug by dealers and suppliers rather than a straight overdose.

Identified drug patterns include polydrug use; amphetamine, cocaine and other stimulant use; alcohol with heroin, alcohol with anti-depressants, alcohol with amphetamine; solvent use by young men under 19; and a large population of low level users of a variety of substances. There is an increase in the use of crack cocaine and a significant culture of binge use of alcohol and a variety of other drugs. The Minister's report has never been so needed!

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