The Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. announced the members of her Rapid Response Group that she has tasked with devising an action plan to deal with drug and substance abuse within the country’s higher education institutions. This Rapid Response Group will be tasked with gathering data and proposing solutions to the most pressing issues facing students with regards to drug and substance abuse.
In a statement outside the Department of Education & Skills, prior to the first official meeting of the Rapid Response Group, the Minister said: ‘I have spent a huge amount of time meeting students, their parents and the people working at all levels in our higher education institutions. From all these discussions, it became clear to me that while some good work is being done at institution level, we were not doing enough in a planned and joined up way across the sector to counteract the negative impact of drug and substance abuse. Some students are suffering serious harm. Some are dying and lives are shattered. We all have a responsibility to protect and educate students and parents.’
The Minister went on to explain, ‘I am taking a two strand approach to this issue. Initially I am setting up a group of experts, including academics, Gardaí, students and first responders within institutions, who are going to consider what the key issues that are facing us are, and what the solutions will be. They are going to report back to me within eight weeks. I have also convened an extensive data gathering exercise for all higher education institutions which will be led by Dr Michael Byrne in UCC. Currently statistics on drug use among students are anecdotal and I want a clear and accurate account as to what we are dealing with.’ She also went on to announce that ‘this response will be embedded within the Healthy Ireland Healthy Campus initiative which is being rolled out within all our higher education institutions by the Department of Health later this year.’
The Rapid Response group is led by Chairperson Dr Andrew Power who is the Registrar and Vice President of Equality and Diversity at The Institute of Art Design and Technology. Other members come from various third level institutions across Ireland, the HSE, the Gardaí and the National Parent Council. Dr. Michael Byrne, Head of Student Health Department at UCC will lead the data collection process.
The Minister highlighted the importance of gaining new data to shed light on the drug a substance abuse issue: ‘I have experts all around me. I’m asking them to go into a room, I’m asking them to collect data number 1, because the data we have is very sketchy. […] The resources have been put in place for the data to be collected, but in the meantime the Rapid Response group are going to meet. I’m actually giving them a very tight schedule of eight weeks. Now I understand of course that the data will take longer but we will come back and revisit it. […] I want to ensure that the two cohorts of students: the one that they haven’t taken any drugs – that they abstain from drugs and [we] want to keep them safe; and then of course on the harm reduction on the other side. And I have the Gardaí here to make sure that we’ve an implementable plan.’
Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. concluded: ‘The completed roadmap and data gathering will give us the opportunity to build a sustainable strategy on how we message our young students around drug taking. I want our initiative to also help us to drive home the message of responsible bystander intervention – always ‘step in’ when there is any indication that a friend or fellow student is at risk after consuming drugs by calling the emergency services.’
Conor Capplis – Editor