Pandemic brought 'big wins' for those tackling drug addiction  

Pandemic brought 'big wins' for those tackling drug addiction  

CEO of the Peter McVerry Trust, Pat Doyle, said elements of the way in which homeless drug users were treated during the pandemic should be retained into the future.

One of the country’s leading homeless charities has said the Covid-19 pandemic brought “big wins” in terms of people tackling their drug addiction in isolation, with many being fast-tracked in more stable housing as a result.

The CEO of the Peter McVerry Trust, Pat Doyle, said elements of the way in which homeless drug users were treated during the pandemic should be retained into the future.

Those Harm Reduction measures meant the PMVT established dedicated isolation and shielding services for both PMVT participants and as a response to a need across the sector to provide safe, effective isolation services to those experiencing homeless.

On admission, nurse-led isolation service kicked in, with participants taking part in a comprehensive Harm Reduction and Nursing assessment, with any need for medically supported stabilisation or detox identified.

Pat Doyle said clients could then avail of on-site nursing and GP prescribing alongside the physical and mental health supports, with the isolation period - initially for 14 days - meaning greater engagement and an increased chance of success.

“That was the big outcome,” he said. 

“In addition to dealing with Covid the big win was access to other medical treatments, particularly for drug addiction and mental health.

“It was like running mini detox programmes, mini treatment programmes, mini stabilisation programmes.” The PMVT is gathering data as part of a larger research project that will publish its findings later this year, and found that a total of 2,612 adults supported, with 1,685 self-isolation cases and 298 cases of cocooning.

There were 18 overdose-related incidents, with Naloxone administered 10 times.

As for harm reduction initiations across the referrals:

  • 39% (192) have been initiated on Opiate Substitution Therapy (OST) 
  • 33% (164) have been supported with Librium Detox in response to alcohol withdrawal 
  • 28% (136) have been initiated on a stabilization regime for problematic Benzodiazepine use.

The charity said: “The percentage of harm reductions have decreased over time as there have been a number of participants re-referred back to the Isolation services and the harm reduction measures had already been put in place by the nursing team.

“Upon commencement of isolation services in March 2020, 57% of all admissions of adults / couples required medical intervention to support addiction, withdrawal and related risks. This had reduced to 3% of admission in December 2021.” Pay Doyle said there had been successes among the clients treated during the pandemic period, with the intensive 24/7 nature of isolation helping clients build a “rapport” with staff.

“A number of people did not go back to the hostel who had referred them and instead they were sent straight to stabilisation programmes,” he said.

Earlier this week Merchants Quay Ireland said ring-fenced mental health funding was necessary to deal with the long-term negative impact of Covid-19 isolation, including on the mental health of people who are homeless and struggling with substance misuse.

A qualitative study which looked at the experiences of a smaller number of individuals at different stages of the pandemic found that while living conditions improved for some, others - and particularly those with more severe mental heal the conditions - suffered depression and in some cases suicidal ideation.

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