Heroin addicts, their friends, and immediate relations are to be provided with a series of measures, including an antidote to the Class A drug, in an effort to prevent deaths from overdosing.
Nearly 90 fatalities from heroin and other opiates overdoses have been reported in Cork City in the past 11 years.
The HSE’s Drug and Alcohol Service is planning to give out the drug naloxone to addicts and those who would have frequent contact with them.
The drug is commonly injected intravenously and provides almost immediate countermeasures. It can also be administered in mist form through a nasal atomiser.
David Lane, HSE South coordinator for the Drug and Alcohol Service, said it was hoped to have naloxone distributed to those most at risk of overdose by the middle of next month.
He said it was part of an overall plan to reduce deaths. His staff have been working on a number of safety measures with heroin users in the past few months, which “are proving to save lives”.
Mr Lane said they have already trained upwards of 100 addicts to help friends who overdose.
“We have been trying to break down some of the worries and fears our service users have about reporting an overdose,” he said. “Now more and more people are ringing the emergency services. We have told them to seek help ASAP.”
Senior gardaí in Cork City have publicly said they view heroin addicts as “victims” and want to help them rather than see them behind bars.
Mr Lane said addicts were being trained to put friends who have overdosed into the recovery position and they are also looking at training them in CPR. “This has definitely led to a reduction in the number of people getting into difficulties,” he said.
Mr Lane said similar types of training were also being given to relatives of addicts.
The first heroin deaths in Cork were reported in 2004. They reached a peak of 17 in 2009 and seem to be falling .
Mr Lane said an interagency plan was adopted two years ago to try and reduce the number of heroin addicts who were dying from overdoses and its ideas were now coming to fruition.
This included setting up needle-exchange programmes in the city which has cut down on the transmission of HIV and hepatitis.
It is estimated that there are around 500 heroin users in Cork. The majority are males and in their early 20s to late 30s. Only half are thought to be dealing with the HSE services and receiving methadone treatment.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved