Tracking system to monitor recovering drug users

DRUG addicts receiving treatment are to be monitored by a special patient-tracking system following a failure to keep check on recovering users in methadone programmes.

The unique tracking system, the first of its kind in the country, will help health professionals establish success rates of treatment programmes as well as their value for money.

The new database though will require fresh legislation. It will help monitor long-term methadone maintenance patients who, in some cases, have been on treatment programmes for 10 years or more.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) said it was updating its national drug treatment reporting system on clients, which would include collating all information on counselling and methadone use.

More than 10,000 people attended methadone treatment programmes last year, at an average cost of €2,427 each.

The internet-based system has been stalled by data protection issues regarding patients’ details. This is expected to be overcome with the introduction of the forthcoming Health Information Bill, an Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee was told.

The committee also heard recovering heroin addicts are having to wait up to two years to get onto methadone maintenance programmes as the numbers of drug users seeking treatment continues to soar.

TDs complained of a lack of leadership in drug rehabilitation programmes as it emerged that only one new treatment clinic has been opened by health officials in the past year.

Addicts in the Waterford and Wexford areas are on the longest waiting list in the country, the HSE told the committee.

Up to 40 addicts are waiting in the south-east for treatment. A challenge in reducing numbers was the fact that services were having to bring a doctor down from Dublin for cases and to train GPs.

Committee members heard how nationwide the methadone treatment waiting list has risen from 461 to 545 in a year. The 20% increase in demand though had only been met with the opening of one new clinic, HSE’s assistant director of primary care Gretta Crowley admitted.

In Cork alone, two new addicts are presenting for methadone treatment every day, TDs were told.

Two new methadone maintenance clinics are planned for the city by the end of the year.

However, up to one in seven clinics nationwide are experiencing serious delays in treating addicts, new figures revealed. Out of the 69 treatment clinics, 11 had long waiting times.

An audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General noted concern about the co-ordination of drug treatment services.

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