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Addiction Services

'We're replacing one addiction with another': Number of people accessing methadone up 600% in some counties

For the last 20 years, methadone has been the mainstay of harm reduction services in Ireland.

THE NUMBER OF people accessing methadone in the last 10 years has risen by more than 600% in some counties.

Figures obtained by the PA news agency through freedom of information laws show Ireland’s use of methadone treatment protocol (MTP), used to treat heroin addiction, has rapidly increased in some parts of the country.

The number of methadone users in Co Kerry in 2018 is almost seven times higher than it was in 2008, going from 13 to 89.

Cork has seen a 400% increase, with 91 methadone users in 2008, and 398 in 2018.

Users in Co Tipperary have increased from 40 to 155, and in Co Waterford they rose from 19 to 157.

Counties such as Carlow, Cavan, Kilkenny, Longford, Offaly, Louth, Wexford, Galway and Clare have all seen their figures at least double since 2008.

In contrast, Dublin has slightly reduced its methadone user numbers from 6,669 in 2008 to 6,230 last year.

For the last 20 years, methadone has been the mainstay of harm reduction services in Ireland.

There are currently 10,203 people in a methadone treatment programme across Ireland, 7,159 men and 3,042 women.

The majority of people in the programme are aged 45 years and over.

Sinn Fein TD for Cork North Central Jonathan O’Brien has raised the issue of the ever-growing problem of heroin in Cork City with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and says additional gardaí resources to fight heroin supply gangs and improved addiction supports is the best way to tackle the issue.

“These figures are worrying for a number of reasons,” he said.

“Firstly they show that more and more people are seeking treatment for heroin addiction, which is positive, but they also show up the failure in drugs policy to trying to get individuals into treatment programmes.

There is simply not enough resources being put into the services a recovering addict needs, life skills, counselling to address underlying mental health issues and living arrangements.

“Putting people on methadone should be a short term stop gap measure to allow adequate services be put in place such as residential detox beds and rehab.

“We are just replacing one addiction with another and some addicts will argue that methadone is harder to detox from than Heroin.

“You’ll also note that the age profile of those on methadone is rising indicating that people are on methadone years and not enough is being done to help individuals beat their addiction.”

Dr Garrett McGovern, an addiction specialist in Priority Medical Clinic, says that the numbers of those using methadone have remained steady.

“They have been in and around 10,000 for over 10 years now and the lack of movement generally relates to lack of treatment expansion outside Dublin,” he said.

“Opioid substitution treatment (OST) is the most effective intervention for heroin addiction with over five decades of research supporting its use.

The longer a patient stays on it the more protective it is against overdose, Hep C and HIV transmission and relapse to heroin use.

The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.

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