Staff at detox unit told to apply for lottery funds

Exasperated staff at the country’s only mother and child detox unit have been told by the Government to apply for lottery funding in a last-ditch effort to keep the unit open.

The Coolmine unit has had to tell the 20 mothers who are on the waiting list that they are not taking any more entrants.

This will not change unless the drug agency receives €100,000 to hire a nurse and childcare specialist, without which they cannot legally operate.

Speaking yesterday at the unveiling of Coolmine’s 2011 annual report, chief executive Paul Conlon said if mothers could not access the unit, there was a very high risk it would put their lives and “the lives of their children” in danger.

Aisleigh House, in west Dublin, is used by mothers from across Ireland.

About 36 mothers and their children took part in programmes in Aisleigh House in 2011 and 13 had their children on site on a permanent basis.

Coolmine chairman Brian Ward said they had raised funding concerns for over a year now without any response and had decided in the last three weeks to push the matter further.

He said he had written to Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald and then drugs strategy minister Roisín Shortall to highlight the “crisis” the mothers’ unit was in.

He said one suggestion from Ms Fitzgerald, in her response, was to seek lottery funding through the Department of Health, which he did.

“I feel it’s incongruous they can manage to pay Dáil deputies €750,000 in expenses in August, when they can’t find €100,000 to ensure we can deal with the backlog for next year,” said Mr Ward.

Mr Conlon said the mother detox unit, which opened in 2008, was crucial for the rehabilitation of these women, who were doubly disadvantaged and had worked very hard to overcome their addiction.

“If they don’t participate, there is a very high risk that they will not come into treatment, putting their lives and the lives of their children at risk.”

He said the Coolmine Therapeutic Community has had its funding cut by 7% on average each year since 2007. He said treatment worked for drug addicts and represented value for money for the community.

Head of services Pauline McKeown said the unit dealt with more than 1,000 people last year, including 886 through its outreach work. She said 48 people entered its stabilisation programme and 60% had stayed with it after three months. In addition, 41 people took part in the drug-free programme.

In the unit’s residential homes, 71 men resided at Coolmine Lodge, with 46 women in Ashleigh House.

She said 22 completed methadone detox in 2010, 23 in 2011, and 18 in the first six months of 2012.

* www.coolmine.ie

Alcohol strategy delay

The troubled national alcohol strategy will not go before the Government until later in the year at the earliest, it has emerged.

An action plan being drawn up by the Department of Health to implement the strategy is still being worked on.

Concerns have been expressed at the political impetus behind the action plan following the resignation of Róisín Shortall, the drugs strategy minister, last Wednesday.

Ms Shortall personally drove the alcohol strategy and argued strongly in favour of its more radical recommendations, including ending sports sponsorship.

She was left exposed last July when she announced the action plan was going before a Cabinet meeting that month and was “very hopeful” ministers would back it.

Neither transpired and several ministers as well as Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it was not even on the agenda for the meeting. Ms Shortall then said she expected the plan to go before the Cabinet in September.

A spokesman for the Department of Health yesterday confirmed a plan did go before the Cabinet’s committee on social policy on Monday. He said Health Minister James Reilly and minister of state-designate Alex White attended.

However, no decision was made on the plan and it is not clear when that will happen.

“The department is still developing an alcohol action plan and intends to submit it for Government for approval before the end of the year,” said the spokesman.

The Irish Examiner understands the action plan is struggling to navigate through departments which have serious concerns about sponsorship and drastic advertising bans.

— Cormac O’Keeffe

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