Heroin deepens its grip outside capital

HEROIN is deepening its grip across the country with record numbers of new addicts outside Dublin looking for help.

Figures seen by the Irish Examiner show the number of heroin users seeking treatment for the first time more than doubled between 2002 and 2008, trebling in many regions.

The Government’s top drug adviser said the rise was “worrying” and warned that, if the problem was left unchecked, it “could get out of control, as it did in Dublin”.

Dr Des Corrigan, chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD), said the figures highlighted the need for investment in treatment services, with waiting lists for methadone of a year or more in some regions.

The figures also reveal that the number of new heroin users seeking assistance in Dublin has risen sharply since 2006, following a drop between 2002 and 2005.

The data, supplied by the Health Research Board, records the number of new treatment cases for opiates (heroin and methadone). Broken down by regional drug task force (RDTF) area, it reveals:

* A 310% hike in the mid-west, from 20 in 2002 to 82 in 2008.

* A 280% jump in the west, from 23 to 87.

* A 270% rise in the south-east, from 32 to 118.

* A 260% increase in the midlands, from 21 to 75.

* A 240% jump in the south, from 21 to 71.

In the north-west region, the number rose from an estimated three cases in 2002 to 20 in 2008, a rise of 560%. Outside the HSE regions covering Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare, the total number of new cases jumped from 174 to 546.

New cases are considered the best treatment indicator for trends and exclude those already in treatment. Treatment numbers are generally estimated to reflect only a third of all users.

“The figures are worrying. Not only is the increase worrying, but the scale of the increase is also worrying,” said Dr Corrigan. “It is almost inevitable those already dependant will recruit others.”

Separate data, also seen by the Irish Examiner, shows the number of Garda prosecutions for heroin trebled nationally between 2002 and 2007 (most recent figure available).

The greatest regional increases were in the southeast (up 2,000%) and the south (up 800%), while the biggest increases at divisional level were in Limerick (up 8,500%) and Laois/Offaly (up 2,000%).

Other indicators also highlight a rise, with new research by the south-east RDTF estimating there are at least 900 heroin addicts in the region.

Dr Corrigan said action needed to be taken on expanding treatment and needle exchange services.

He said it was “quite evident” the target of heroin addicts accessing treatment within a month wasn’t happening in most areas.


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