Methadone projects 'must expand to help rural addicts'
Methadone programmes have to expand to meet the needs of recovering heroin addicts in rural Ireland, a report has said.
More than 9,000 drug users are taking opiate replacement treatment, mainly methadone, to try and beat their addiction and lead a functioning life.
But academics revealed the range and scale of problems outside the capital makes the development of services in those areas an urgent priority.
The most recent figures estimate the number of heroin addicts outside Dublin more than doubled between 2001 to 2006 - from 2,225 to 5,886. Almost another 15,000 users are in the capital.
In a report Michael Farrell, professor of addiction psychiatry at Kings College London, highlighted the overall gap in the national provision of services and recommended major attention be given to developing models of services for all areas outside of Dublin.
He called for the issue of rural access to services to be specifically addressed.
"The report calls on a further integration of services to ensure that the broader social needs of service-users are fully addressed," Professor Farrell said.
There were 8,551 patients receiving methadone treatment from a GP or clinic by the end of December 2009, a jump from 5,965 in 2002. But the figure does not include inmates in the country's prisons.
The review found people not in treatment were approximately three times more likely to die than those who are in stable treatment.
The first external review of the methadone treatment protocol, which came in to law for medics in 1998, was co-authored by Professor Farrell and and Joe Barry, professor of population health medicine at Trinity College Dublin.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) said the findings will be a template for maximising treatment resulting in detoxification, stabilisation and rehabilitation for opiate users, encouraging heroin users to engage with treatment services.
The report recommended more effective referral and care pathways for patients, that clinicians to work together for more positive impact and highlighted how treatment access and capacity could be maximised through the more effective input of GP's employed in the addiction services.
Pat Carey, Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, said it is important to utilise resources to the greatest cumulative positive effect for problem drug use clients.
"Problem drug users, their families, and their communities, as well as tax payers generally, deserve no less," he said.