Covid crisis leads to plummeting numbers seeking drug addiction treatment

Drug treatment facilities have seen a drop of more than 50% in the numbers of people looking for help between Jan and Mar, according to a new study.
Covid crisis leads to plummeting numbers seeking drug addiction treatment

Drug treatment facilities have seen a drop of more than 50% in the numbers of people looking for help between Jan and Mar, according to a new study.

Opioid users particularly stopped seeking treatment throughout this period, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), found when examining the impact of the coronavirus crisis on drug users.

However, here in Ireland more people reported an increased wish to seek support with their addiction post-Covid outbreak than in any other country surveyed, which included Estonia, Spain, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg.

Although the intention to seek professional support to reduce or abstain from use — like through counselling or drug treatment — remained unchanged for most respondents, here, 15% of those surveyed reported an increased intention to seek help.

And 6% of the overall sample reported higher use of remote professional help, including phone, video or web-based drug services, with most of these respondents living in Spain (19%) and here (14%).

20% of the 261 respondents who reported injecting a drug in the previous 12 months, said that clean injection material has become less accessible as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.

Data from four countries — Ireland, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Portugal — revealed an overall reduction of more than 50% in clients entering drug treatment between Jan and Mar 2020.

Confinement measures have made it difficult for clients to reach treatment centres, with travel from rural areas being particular problematic. Public health advice on social distancing and reduced staff numbers have also decreased the range of services usually available to drug users.

But the study, called The Impact of COVID-19 on Drug Services and Help-Seeking in Europe, also highlights innovations made by various bodies to help drug users throughout the pandemic. It found that the increased use of telemedicine has been a success and may be retained post-pandemic. And Ireland's system of delivering prescription drugs to stabilise users who are isolating is also seen as a positive development.

Drug deliveries and isolation units reduce Covid infection among homeless drug users

Drug deliveries and isolation units provided to people who use drugs and are homeless in Dublin helped keep the number of Covid-19 cases among this group far below expected levels with no known virus-related deaths.

Seven residential units were quickly established where symptomatic people who are homeless can isolate and where others who are non-symptomatic but who are vulnerable due to underlying health conditions can 'cocoon'.

These isolation units were established by the Health Service Executive, Dublin City Council and NGOs and NGO workers were redeployed to run them. A clinical lead was also appointed with responsibility for COVID-19 and homelessness in Dublin. The changes led to a drop in waiting times from 12 weeks to 2-3 days for opioid substitution therapy, specifically methadone, for people who were homeless and opioid-dependent.

Benzodiazepine stabilisation prescriptions were also provided to those in isolation or cocooning and prescriptions were delivered by two NGOs to people who are homeless and isolating in accommodation across Dublin.

Tony Duffin of the Ana Liffey Drug Project and Dr Austin O’Carroll said that providing accommodation and making prescription drugs more accessible helps to stabilise people and encourages them to remain in isolation which ultimately helps reduce the spread of COVID-19.

As of April 24, in Dublin City, 33 people who used drugs and were homeless had been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the beginning of the crisis.

Three clusters involving just two cases each of COVID-19 were identified within homeless accommodation. There were no known COVID-19 related deaths among this group as of Apr 24.  And the number of COVID-19 cases was lower than had been anticipated among this group.

In the week of Apr 24, nearly 200 COVID-19 cases had been expected, but only four cases were reported.  Similarly, Covid-19 related deaths had been expected among this group and more clusters of cases in homeless accommodation had been anticipated.

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