Heroin users' healing – how can we help?
It's time to gather precise data on the lives of opiate users, says Maeve Daly
HEROIN addiction is a serious problem worldwide and Ireland has one of the highest rates of problem opiate use in the EU. We have reached almost twice the European average.
The harms associated with problem drug use and the chronic nature of heroin addiction are not just at the individual level, but also have a significant impact on the community and wider society in terms of crime and social dysfunction.
In response, the availability of treatment and rehabilitative services in Ireland has increased over the last decade.
While studies show that treatment clearly works in terms of reducing drug use, reducing levels of crime and improving social functioning, the effect of treatment on health outcomes is less well-defined. So while the benefits of treatment are clear for the community, service provider and society, the physical and mental health and well-being of individual heroin users isn't demonstrating the same rapid improvement.
Heroin use doesn't just affect the individual. Opiate users are family members and can also be parents themselves, and the effects of their drug use can have a profound impact on how their family functions, as well as the health outcomes of their children.
This is a research area that needs much greater focus and there is a clear gap in the knowledge on quantitative measures of health and well-being, as well as the impact of parental heroin use on the family and the children involved. Quantitative health measures are based on numerical data; for example, how people would rate their physical pain on a scale of one to 10.
My research looks in-depth at the physical and mental health of a cohort of opiate-users and their children, and will provide a longitudinal assessment of their health outcomes over time.
One of my objectives is to explore the inheritance of existing addiction risk from parent to child, and to use novel methods to model the predictors affecting this process.
Drawing from both statistical and mathematical modelling techniques, mathematical models of epidemics will be used to explore the inheritance of risk of opiate use from one generation to the next.
The results will provide new knowledge on quantitative measures of health, well-being and future risk of drug use. The results will also provide empirical evidence for national and international policy-makers and service providers.
Child and population health and the epidemiology of substance use and innovation are some of the key research areas within the School of Nursing & Midwifery. Researchers come from a range of different backgrounds, including nursing, midwifery, health science, psychology, anthropology, mathematics, statistics and epidemiology.
This variety in skill sets promotes a multi-disciplinary approach to health research and the application of innovative methodologies for addressing key health research questions.
Maeve Daly, MSc, is a doctoral candidate at the School of Nursing & Midwifery at TCD and is an Irish Research Council postgraduate scholarship holder. She studied public health and health promotion at IT Sligo and has a Master's in Public Health from UCD.