Thursday 23 February 2017

Revealed: cost of drugs crisis has been €1bn over past five years

Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

Methadone: A valuable part of a detox programme, but often used as a 'keep them off the streets' type panacea
Methadone: A valuable part of a detox programme, but often used as a 'keep them off the streets' type panacea

The true scale of the financial cost of the country drug addiction problem - an estimated €1bn in five years - has been laid bare in previously unreleased figures.

The running average for treating, providing social welfare, free travel, housing and other benefits, including the heroin substitute methadone in prison, is around a quarter of a billion a year. The figure is actually decreasing, by €5m last year.

But in 2009, as the country was in the grip of financial crisis and mass emigration, a massive €277m was required to treat drug addicts.

The figures are included in the State's submission to the EU's Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and published in its report for 2014.

The Irish report to the EMCDDA contains remarkable figures not before published about the extent of government expenditure on helping drug addicts.

It reveals that the State is currently funding some 220 treatment and rehabilitation community drugs projects via the HSE.

The Department of Health supports a further 100 community drugs prevention projects, including the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol, the National Family Support Network and the Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign.

The figures show that the HSE spent €651m over the five years to 2013 and the Department of Health a further €169m. The total expenditure over the five years to 2013 was €1.224bn. The report says there has been an increase in expenditure over 2014 but no figure is supplied.

Detail in the report states that Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI), a national voluntary agency providing services for homeless people and for drug users in Dublin, "reported that in 2012 there were 22,475 visits to its Drug Services and 20,847 needle exchanges, with 3,639 individuals using the services, 558 of whom were new clients".

It also refers to a study of drug use in Irish prisons published in 2014 which reported that "the drugs most commonly used by the prison population were cannabis, cocaine powder and benzodiazepines."

Oral fluid testing for drug use in the previous 24 to 72 hours showed 4pc had used cannabis, 13pc methadone and 11pc benzodiazepines.

More an 200 prisoners said they were "doing heroin now". Among these current users, 75pc reported smoking heroin as their only method of choice, with 13pc reporting injecting and 1pc snorting as their only method.

Disturbingly, it also reports high rates of drug use among Irish teenagers, higher than in other EU states. It refers to an Irish study on "non-medical use of psychotropic prescription drugs among adolescents (aged 13 to 18 years)". It says: "The most common medication used without a prescription was sedative/anxiolytics (62pc), followed by sleeping (hypnotic) medication (43pc). The paper concluded that non-medical use of prescription drugs is commonplace among adolescents who abuse illicit drugs and that they typically use these prescription drugs for hedonic reasons."

The continuing high levels of injecting drugs by the addicts is also contributing to rises in HIV and hepatitis despite decades of campaigning to 'raise awareness' of the health issues and the issuing of hundreds of thousands of clean needles - most of which end up scattered around public areas as there is no effective programme for their disposal.

The report also highlights a previously unreported huge rise in drug addiction in the Traveller community.

It states: "The number of cases among the Traveller community seeking treatment for problem drug and alcohol use increased by 163pc between 2007 and 2010.

"However, this number is likely to be under-estimated. Alcohol was the most common problem substance, while the number seeking treatment for opiates increased by 291pc.

"Traveller women reported high rates of problem opiate use and injecting behaviours. The findings present a major cultural issue and challenge to Traveller health services and, given the high level of sharing, this has implications for the delivery of needle exchange services."

Sunday Independent

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