Ireland: Alcohol recognised as ‘gateway drug’

Alcohol was officially recognised by the Government today as a gateway drug that can lead users to other addictive substances. The Cabinet decided to re-designate the issue of problem drinking with anti-drugs initiatives as part of a new national strategy.

Minister John Curran, who has responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, said alcohol abuse is causing huge levels of public concern around the country. Mr Curran said a combined strategy will facilitate a more coherent approach to the issues and consequences of alcohol and illicit drug use, including addictive behaviours.

“We cannot continue to look at these problems in isolation. The time has come for more joined-up thinking,” he said. Mr Curran and Health Minister Mary Harney brought the issue to today’s Cabinet meeting, where it was approved.

Mr Curran said: “Alcohol is seen, for many, as a gateway to illicit drug use and poly-drug use, often including alcohol, is now the norm among illicit drug users. “People also have serious concerns in relation to the high level of alcohol consumption in Ireland, the pattern of drinking, especially binge drinking among young people and in the community generally, and the wider social harms which are associated with the misuse of alcohol.”

The minister is preparing a new National Drugs Strategy for the period 2009/16. Discussions will be held around a new National Substance Misuse Strategy in coming days. Meanwhile, Ms Harney announced today she is banning the stimulant drug BZP, which is available in so-called “head shops”. Possessing or selling the substance is now an offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977.

She said: “This will now make the possession of BZP illegal and make sure that BZP is no longer available for sale in ’head shops’ around the country, which has been an issue of concern to my Department and the wider public.”

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