Funding of Government-led drug programme by charity causes concern

THE funding of a Government-led drug programme by a charity operating in developing countries raises serious questions about future drug funding, a leading voluntary drug service has said.

Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) said the €750,000 donated to the Government by the Elton John Aids Foundation to establish needle exchange services across the country was a serious development.

“It’s a departure in government policy in that the Government has announced the Elton John Aids Foundation — which is an international charity that normally funds services in Third World countries, such as Aids prevention in sub-saharan Africa — is funding the roll-out of pharmacy-based needle exchanges around the country,” said MQI chief executive Tony Geoghegan.

“While on the one hand we welcome that, it’s much needed, but it is a strange departure. Normally, governments fund charities to provide services on their behalf, not charities funding governments to deliver on the government’s priorities.

“It does cause us some concern. What is the funding situation going to be like now, if that is what their recourse is?”

Mr Geoghegan was talking at the launch of the agency’s annual review for 2008, which said that 5,286 people attended their drug services that year.

This included 942 new heroin users who were using the agency’s needle exchange services, with people coming from all over the country.

“In 2008 we have seen an alarming increase in drug use outside of Dublin,” said Mr Geoghegan. “Heroin respects no borders and users are now to be found in all areas, from Ballyshannon to Ballydehob.

“Cities such as Cork and Waterford that might have been considered relatively unscathed five years ago now have significant problems. Heroin use is a national crisis.”

He said the National Drugs Strategy proposes setting up services to deal with the problem, but said the funding commitment was not there.

“It’s short-sightedness. The evidence, international and national, shows that drug treatment works and saves in terms of social welfare, health and prison costs. It’s a no-brainer.”

He also criticised the state’s bureaucratic and business-type approach to dealing with homelessness. He said under a new system only six months’ support is provided to homeless people who are rehoused.

“These are people, not products that we can take in and process. They are people with very real, complex problems that may need long-term support. Our concern is a lot will slip through the net and will be back on the streets.”


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