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Thursday 21 September 2017

HSE heroin treatment crisis fuels thefts surge

Eilish O'Regan and Tom Brady

A CRISIS in the treatment of heroin addicts is helping to fuel a dramatic upsurge in burglaries across the country.

Drug addicts in large swathes of the country are facing a waiting list of more than a year before gaining access to treatment.

An Irish Independent investigation has found that heroin addicts in several areas outside Dublin, who want to be stabilised on methadone, are struggling to find a clinic or GP to take them on.

It comes as the number of heroin addicts across the country has grown from 16,000 to 21,000 in the past five years.

Much of the growth has been in cities such as Waterford, Limerick and Cork, fuelling an alarming spate of burglaries and thefts outside the capital.

Latest figures show that burglaries jumped by 7.9pc last year, compared with 2010, rising to a total of 27,439 offences.

A senior garda said: "There is no doubt that drug addiction, particularly among those hooked on heroin, helps fuel the amount of property crime."

A number of counties with addicts have no nearby methadone clinic, including Roscommon, Sligo, Donegal, Clare and Monaghan.

And clinics in the midlands, Waterford and north east of the country cannot cope with the demand for treatment.

A shortage of GPs who are qualified or willing to take on stabilised or new patients means addicts are being put on waiting lists.

A recent internal report by the HSE into waiting lists in the towns of Athlone, Portlaoise and Tullamore, where addicts can wait more than a year for assessment, found when addicts were eventually called, just half responded.

There are 24 addicts currently waiting for methadone treatment in Waterford clinic. The Galway clinic, which is the only HSE service for addicts along the west coast, has a waiting list of nine addicts.

Nationally, there are around 230 on waiting lists, with long delays of more than one year in clinics in Drogheda and Dundalk in Co Louth.

There are 9,315 drug users currently getting methadone treatment across the country.

Dr Cathal O Suilliobhain, a leading expert in medical addiction treatment who practices in south Co Dublin, said there are very few doctors outside the capital who can work as an alternative to clinics.

Obstacles

"Recent reports from Clare, Roscommon and Leitrim, areas where there is no access to treatment, indicate the numbers of heroin users are expanding rapidly," he said.

He believes unnecessary obstacles are being placed in the way of allowing GPs to look after new patients.

The majority of the GPs outside Dublin are restricted to looking after addicts who are already stabilised.

He said official waiting list figures are not a true reflection of the demand for treatment.

"Many see no point in putting their name on a waiting list when they know it could be years before they are called," he said.

The HSE said it is prioritising methadone clinics in targeted areas to reduce waiting lists.

Irish Independent

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