Heroin Boom in Ireland

Despite more than three decades of initiatives and debate and hundreds of millions spent on treatment, anti- drug campaigns, studies and the establishment of dozens of research groups, the heroin problem is getting steadily worse according to annual report by Merchants Quay Ireland.

- The Irish Government has an overreliance on Harm Reduction and are not addressing the underlying problems of addiction, says Grainne Kenny, Hon.President EURAD and the Hon.President of CIADO Romania.

Heroin boom

The number of Irish heroin addicts has increased sharply.650 new injectors are listed at the needle exchange services in Dublin alone. In its annual report, Merchant Quay Ireland (MQI) said that demands for the services including drug substitution treatment has soared by 17 percent in the first half of the year, compared to the same period in 2009. The report also said that more than 9,000 people have been supported for drug use and homelessness in 2008, which marks a 9 percent rise. 

- Investment in drug substitution treatment has been shown to reduce other healthcare costs and to reduce crime, and investment in drug-free treatment and aftercare can reduce expenditure on healthcare, criminal justice and social welfare,” says MQI director, Tony Geoghegan

The last available estimate of the number of addicts in Ireland dates from 2007 when a report for the National Substance Misuse Strategy suggested between 18,000 and 23,000 drug addicts. Between 8000 and 9000 are receiving methadone, according to the same report.  Between 1,500 and 2,000 of the addicts on methadone have hepatitis.

The death rate from poisoning among addicts is very high, and rising steadily. There were 103 addict deaths from poisoning in 2003 and 185 in 2007- an increase of 82 deaths. Suicide among addicts is also many times higher than in the rest of the population.

Needles, not detox

There are no available statistics  for the number of people given methadone in Dublin city centre, but we know that one centre in Dublin is providing methadone to 12,000 addicts daily. The last figures available from the Health Service Executive (HSE) suggest that it also gave out almost 50,000 needles to addicts in 2007, the vast majority in Dublin city centre.

Traders representatives say that while needle exchange is an important way to stop the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis, handing out so many needles without supervision in a city centre is a public health hazard. There are now 34 needle exchanges in the country. The drugs minister has accepted money from  the Elton John AIDS Fund to expand this service throughout the country using the facilities of local pharmacies.

The cost of treating addicts last year amounted to 275 million euros according to figures supplied by the HSE (2010). The HSE carries out over a million immunoassay tests a year on addicts for infections like hepatitis and HIV. There is further spending by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, which fund 14 “drugs task force” groups around the country.At the same time, the HSE admit that there are only 36 beds available for detoxification treatment in the entire country.

Drug crime 

Drug offences are also rising steadily.  According to police statistics, there were 5,324 in 2003 and 11,647 offences in 2007.  Prosecutions for the possession of heroin in the same period rose from 995 to 3,113.  The number of forged  prescriptions charges in the same period almost doubled to 408.  Police (Gardai) also reported high rates of intimidation of the families of  addicts to pay debts with many resorting to their savings or credit union loans. 

Two-thirds of the prison population is also drug-addicted, according to the report by Drugnet Ireland (Official  Irish Research Agency reporting to EDMCDDA). It also found that the Drugs Court initiative launched in 2001 where there would be special courts to deal with drug offenders with the view of diverting addicts into treatment rather than jail has more or less failed.  Since it was set up , only 374 cases were dealt with and only 29 offenders were reported to have completed their treatment programmes.

 The latest Government initiative is the National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016 which has a five pillar programme for  supply-reduction, prevention, treatment and  rehabilitation, and research and information all with operational objectives and key- performance indicators. However, the Irish police say that despite the plethora of so-called initiatives by Government over the past decades the situation is still, as the report from MQI suggests, deteriorating.