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Friday 19 September 2014

Just 11 doctors licensed to treat rural heroin addicts

Published 19/01/2014 | 02:30

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Heroin users find it hard to get treatment outside of Dublin
Heroin users find it hard to get treatment outside of Dublin

Just 11 doctors outside Dublin are licensed to prescribe methadone to drug addicts, despite a disturbing rise in heroin use in rural Ireland.

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And gardai say the lack of treatment for drug addicts outside the capital is now the main cause of break-ins and robberies in the countryside.

There are 53 GPs in Dublin trained and authorised to prescribe methadone, but less than a dozen to cater for the rest of the country's addicts.

Doctors also fear the lack of treatment and monitoring of addicts outside Dublin is also leading to the spread of illnesses and diseases associated with intravenous drug use.

A study carried out in the Mater Hospital in Dublin last year showed surprising levels of HIV in addicts randomly selected for testing, with three per cent of the sample being found to have the illness.

There are now concerns that HIV and other serious diseases spread by sharing needles could be on the increase outside Dublin became of lack of needle exchange and monitoring.

A senior medical source said last week there was no way of knowing levels of HIV and other diseases among addicts outside Dublin.

In Co Clare, local politicians have been calling for treatment services for the past two years after what they said had been a 400 per cent increase in heroin addiction in towns such as Ennis.

Labour Party Councillor and Chairman of Ennis Joint Police Committee, Paul O'Shea, said last week: "The allocation of 11 trained GPs for those with addictions outside of Dublin is both appalling and unacceptable.

"In 2011 as Chairman of Ennis Joint Police Committee I called for a drug treatment clinic as heroin addiction was reported to have increased by 400 per cent in Ennis.

"Three years on and nothing has happened. We are dealing with a timebomb all over the country and this Government continues to ignore the drug addiction crisis.

"Heroin addiction in Ireland is being tackled with a 'band aid' approach such as Drug Task Force Committees, and an inadequate number of treatment centres.

"What is needed is a total overhaul by the HSE with provision of not only methadone programmes, but treatment centres with adequately trained multi-disciplinary professionals, covering addiction, recidivism and HIV."

Methadone was introduced in Dublin in the early 1990s because of the surge rate of robbery and burglary associated with addiction in Dublin.

Providing the heroin substitute helped stabilise addicts who might otherwise have to turn to crime in order to fund their habit.

Now heroin has reached every small town in the country but the level of treatment and methadone prescription has fallen far behind Dublin.

Addicts seeking treatment are travelling long distances to the few locations where methadone is available. They are also having their travel paid for by the HSE.

Irish Independent

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