Half of drug abusers seeking treatment started injecting in their teens

HALF of drug abusers seeking help to kick their habit were injecting before they were 19 years of age, a study shows.

The report published today by the Health Research Board (HRB) shows that more than 33,350 people were treated for problem drug use between 1998 and 2002.

The number of people being treated increased over that period by almost 30% with more than one quarter of the cases presenting for treatment for the first time.

Senior researcher in the HRB’s drug misuse research division, Dr Jean Long, said the growing numbers reflected the increase in the number of places available for treatment, the need for repeat treatments and more service providers reporting treated cases.

The number of treated individuals outside the eastern region (Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow) almost trebled over the period and may reflect an increase in the availability of treatment services and an increase in drug use in the region.

Opiates (mainly heroin) and cannabis are the main problem drugs, according to those seeking treatment in greater Dublin, the Midlands and the north-eastern region (Meath, Louth Monaghan and Cavan).

Cannabis and ecstasy were the most common in the south, south-east and west.

Meanwhile, of the cases treated over the study period, 72% reported using more than one drug.

“Use of more than one drug is a high-risk behaviour associated with poorer treatment outcomes,” warned Dr Long.

She stressed that information about multiple drug use combinations was vital in tailoring care plans.

“The mid-term review of the National Drugs Strategy has addressed this by revising the actions in the strategy to ensure treatment services reflect the diversity and number of drugs used by people attending for treatment,” she said.

And she said it was encouraging to see that the proportion of previously treated cases who had injected the month before the data was collected decreased from 51% in 1998 to 34% in 2002.

“Since the majority of these cases are continuing in treatment this indicates that ongoing treatment helped reduce risk behaviour,” said Dr Long.

Injectors have a higher risk of overdosing or acquiring blood-borne diseases like hepatitis C and HIV. Dr Long said the strategy was aware of the importance of providing harm reduction facilities for those who continued to inject.

The strategy has also identified the need to examine the long-term supports required to enable drug users to reintegrate into society and the workforce. A working group has been set up to identify the key actions required.

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