The Minister for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan TD, has welcomed the publication by the Health Research Board of treatment data for problem drug use (excluding alcohol).
Minster Feighan said "The HRB report shows there were 10,000 treatment cases in 2020. This high level of treatment is a remarkable figure given the impact of Covid-19 on the health services. It is particularly impressive that new treatment cases, at 3,800, are only 180 down on the 2019 figures. I want to thank drug service providers – HSE, voluntary and community – for continuing to respond to the health needs of people who use drugs. The data demonstrate the commitment and adaptability of service providers during the disruptive challenges of Covid-19. The reasons for the reduction in total cases of less than 1,000 are fully understandable, given the restrictions on residential services and GP clinics".
Minster Feighan continued "More generally, the data highlight the importance of the health-led response to drug use. It is clear that drugs are having a huge impact on people’s lives, both physical and mental. While I acknowledge the importance of the policing in reducing drug supply, it is clear that additional health services are required to address the problem of drug use".
Minister Feighan noted the new data presented in the report that showed that 25 per cent of cases in treatment who have children, including 10 per cent with children living in the home. He said: "I am very concerned with the impact of drugs on children and families. This is a further justification for a health-led response. I have made protecting children from the harms of drug use a priority in the new strategic action plan 2021-2025 under the National Drugs Strategy".
The Minister noted that the treatment data do not capture the range of new treatment measures introduced in 2020 and 2021. He instanced:
- The additional 800 + people who have accessed opioid substitution treatment as a protective measure during Covid-19 and which will be continued in 2021.
- The additional residential treatment episodes funded in the HSE national service plan for 2021.
- The extended hours and additional staff for the HSE Drugs and Alcohol Helpline.
- The expansion of treatment services for pregnant and post-natal women, including additional drug and alcohol liaison midwives to support pregnant women.
- The provision of €480,000 in November 2020 to support the restoration of drug and alcohol services.
Minster Feighan commented on the increased number of people seeking treatment for cocaine and crack cocaine which rose when compared to previous years: "Strengthening early harm reduction responses to drug use, including cocaine and crack cocaine, is a key theme in the National Drugs Strategy. The national cocaine harm reduction campaign, launched in 2018, aims to raise awareness of the dangers of taking cocaine, emphasises the risks and dangers of cocaine use to at-risk groups, and those who engage in ‘recreational use’. These data will inform the allocation of the additional €1m funding for targeted drug and alcohol initiatives in conjunction with the Drug and Alcohol Task Forces in 2021".
Minister Feighan concluded: "People experiencing drug an alcohol-related problems have faced increased challenges throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. I would urge anyone with concerns regarding their own drug and alcohol use, or that of a family member, to contact the helpline on 1800 459 459. The helpline provides support, information, guidance and referral to anyone with a question or concern related to drug and alcohol use and is open from Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.30pm".