The HSE has defended the installation of biohazard bins in parts of Cork city to tackle drug litter - describing them as an important public health tool in the war against heroin.
There are plans to hire a second needle exchange worker in the city this year to encourage intravenous drug users to engage with addiction services. But a supervised injection centre is unlikely in the city within the next two years until the proposed Dublin facility opens and is evaluated.
David Lane, HSE's head of addiction services in Cork and Kerry, made the comments yesterday following a presentation to the Cork City Joint Policing Committee (JPC).
FG Cllr John Buttimer asked him to explain the decision-making process which leads to a needle bin being installed in an area.
Mr Lane said: "The bins go in because there is a problem. We have two bins in the city, and both are being moved because they are not being used anymore. We have been monitoring them over the last three or four months and they need to be located elsewhere.
There was controversy around Wellington Road following the installation of a bin on isolated steps in the area.
But Mr Lane said in one month before the bin was installed, 77 used needles were collected from the area: "The bin was installed and within months, there was a massive reduction in terms in inappropriate discarding of drug paraphernalia, and over a year, it went to zero. Now that bin isn't being used. People have moved on. We are working with council staff to identify new locations. People inject drugs in as remote a place as possible, out of the way and they will continue to do that. These bins are not permanent structures. The timeframe is a period of about two years. The problem exists, we track what we collect, and within a period of time, sites are used less often."
He said one of the key developments in recent years was the employment of a needle exchange worker who has done significant work to engage with and encourage drug users to avail of addiction services.
He said there are plans to recruit a second such specialist to support that work, with other developments including:
- The introduction of a dual diagnosis programme to help people with mental health and addiction problems
- The introduction of a €500,000 project to provide 'wrap-around supports' to complex clients to help them into stable accommodation
- The development of a 'stabilisation unit' where a medieval intervention will be used to help people in chaotic situations access residential detox services
Mr Lane also said the number of people availing of their addiction services has more than doubled over the last decade - from 1,000 in 2008 to almost 2,200 last year - with the vast majority of those seeking help for alcohol addiction but many presenting with poly-drug use.
Despite the economic crash, Mr Lane said the number of staff working in addiction services doubled, it went from one part-time doctor to having the equivalent of five full-time doctors, and waiting lists were reduced.
He said the partnership approach between the various State and voluntary agencies must continue to "keep the lid on things" until a supervised injection facility opens.