The Government has asked the HSE to explore setting up a new helpline for people with a drug addiction based on a service in the UK named Frank.
The move from Simon Harris, the health minister, and Catherine Byrne, the minister of state with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, would mean a year-round 24/7 service which would complement the existing HSE Drug & Alcohol Helpline.
In the UK, Frank has been operating since 2003 when it was jointly established by the Department of Health and the Home Office. It offers “honest information about drugs” including and A to Z of drugs available, and information about them and their effects.
Minister Harris said: “I have spent the past number of months meeting with people affected by drug addiction. I visited Saol — an organisation for women living with addiction.
“I have visited Merchants Quay including a visit to a family support group. Their experiences are different, but they shared one common issue — stigma.
“Few felt they could talk to their peers, their families, about their or their loved-one’s illness — we often focus on the person who is addicted and rarely on those around them.
I strongly believe this helpline could offer people an avenue of support. I also strongly believe that people who are in recovery should be at the other end of the line too. Nobody can speak to this better than those who have experienced it. Obviously this has to be matched by professionals, but few people understand the scourge of addiction better than those who experience it.
It’s understood any new helpline service would operate all year round, whereas the current HSE service accessible via 1800 459459 is open during office hours Monday to Friday.
A spokesperson said: “The idea of it being an anonymised service was important to them as it helped reduce stigma involved with addiction. They could ring Frank rather than a helpline.
“Frank is also available by email, text. It is aimed at parents and children. This would also be manned by people with addiction.
“The two helplines should be able to complement each other.”
The proposal for an enhanced drugs helpline is at a preliminary stage and Minister Harris has requested that the HSE conducts a review of existing provision, with a view to identifying possible improvements in drugs information and education services, including the website drugs.ie.
Dr Bobby Smyth, a child and adolescent consultant psychiatrist, said any extension to a 24/7 service would be a welcome development.
Catherine Byrne said: “Goal one of the strategy is to ‘promote and protect health and wellbeing’ and the objectives to achieve this, as set out in the strategy, centre on promoting healthier lifestyles, and preventing use of drugs and alcohol at a young age.
“The strategy says in relation to prevention; ‘Raising awareness of the risks of substance use and increasing understanding of the harmful effects of substance misuse on the health of the user and other people in the person’s life is an important part of the work of prevention’. The proposal [for the new helpline] could complement this.”