4,300 users seek help from drugs charity

NEARLY 600 new heroin injectors presented themselves to one of the country’s largest drug and homeless charities last year.

Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) said a total of 4,308 users sought help with them in 2010, up 5% on 2009. Some 575 of these were new injectors.

It said this rise coincided with one of the biggest droughts of heroin to hit the country from October on.

MQI chief executive Tony Geoghegan said: “The figures serve as a reminder that heroin use remains at very high levels and that significant numbers of new people are beginning to use heroin every year.”

He said the charity operated in 11 counties, reflecting how the heroin problem was now a national one. Mr Geoghegan said that 24% of the users attending their 17-week residential drug programme in Dublin were from HSE South (Cork and Kerry).

The report said that of the 62 people that went through the residential programme last year, 15 were from HSE South, including 12 from Cork.

Mr Geoghegan also said that 15 of the 34 new users (44% of the total) attending their therapeutic residential programme at St Francis Farm in Tullow, Co Carlow, were from the South East.

“Our figures confirm that heroin is a national crisis. The treatment figures from the Health Research Board back that up.”

He said that addressing homelessness and the drugs crisis was “fundamentally about reducing human misery” and should not be reduced to economics.

“Nonetheless, in this era where policy is focused almost exclusively on reducing public expenditure, it is important to again draw notice to the fact that according to the British Home Office every £1 spent on drug treatment saves £3 in criminal justice costs alone. When health savings are included the saving is £9.50 [€11].

“Investing in harm reduction services directly reduces health care expenditure.

“Investment in drug substitution treatment has been shown to reduce other healthcare costs and to reduce crime and investment in drug free treatment and aftercare can reduce expenditure on healthcare, criminal justice and social welfare.

“Most of all investing in all of these areas reduces the misery associated with drug use for everybody.”

He said there was “no sense of urgency” from the Government to address the problems of drug addiction and homelessness.

He said their funding from the HSE this year was down over 6%: “The only reason why we can keep going, and even set up new services, is through voluntary contributions.”

*www.mqi.ie

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