Three-quarters of homeless people attending service have overdosed

A homeless support service in Limerick city is experiencing drug overdose levels far higher than recorded elsewhere, research shows.

Three out of four homeless people attending McGarry House have overdosed — with such incidents happening at a rate of one every two weeks.

A study, the first of its kind in Ireland, said the overdose rate was at the “higher end of the spectrum”, ranging from 48% to 64%.

The report, published by Novas Initiatives, which runs McGarry House, said clients were becoming younger, engaging in more chaotic drug use and using more opiates, including heroin.

The report, entitled Heads Up, said the “fear of death was exacerbated” for staff trying to deal with pregnant women engaged in high-risk, drug use.

“We commissioned this research because nothing like this had been done before in Ireland,” said Anne Cronin, head of homeless services with Novas.

“People are dying unnecessarily from overdoses in Limerick and all over Ireland. These deaths are preventable.”

She said Novas supported more than 1,200 people in Limerick city in 2013. McGarry House, which opened in 2002, provides homeless accommodation for 30 and long-term, supported housing for 37 more.

“In recent years the McGarry House staff team have observed the profile of residents changing — becoming younger, engaging in more chaotic drug use with increasing levels of opiate use,” said Ms Cronin.

“In an 18-month period between May 2012 and November 2013, the team in McGarry responded to 34 overdoses; an average of one overdose every two weeks.”

She said 16 residents were at high risk, including pregnant women.

The survey of 15 residents found:

* 73% had overdosed — 60% in the past year

* 50% overdosed on one occasion, 18% between one and five times and the rest more than six times

More than half said they had been in a particularly bad mental state at the time of overdosing 93% had witnessed it The report said a cocktail of drugs — including benzodiazepines (tranquillisers), heroin, methadone, ketamine and alcohol — were involved in 73% of cases. Where one drug was involved, benzodiazepines and heroin were the most usual. Over half of residents said they were injecting frequently, a fifth daily.

A multi-agency response was one of the key recommendations in the report, as well as first aid and overdose response training for homeless people. A ‘peer overdose training project’ led by Novas will begin later this year. The research was undertaken by Quality Matters and the Graduate Entry Medical School at University of Limerick.

* Full report on novas.ie

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