HSE has backed away from drugs task force

Eoghan Dalton Reports

It’s been claimed the HSE has stopped engaging with a regional drugs treatment body without giving any reason why.
At this month’s sitting of the Joint Policing Committee members were told by a representative from the South-East Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force (SERDATF) that the HSE has “backed out of the process”.
While the State body is still providing services it is alleged it has stopped engaging with other agencies in the task force. “If each agency spends money

The SERDATF is an organisation made up of State, community and voluntary members tackling drug use through prevention, rehabilitation and research. Mr Purnell described the HSE’s current stance towards the group as that of “apathy”.
Councillor Joe Kelly (Ind) criticised the organisation for its alleged lack of engagement. “The HSE seems to be this faceless animal. Did they give any reason why they backed out? How can anything be done if people are not attending? It’s shocking in my view,” he said.

Mr Purnell told Cllr Kelly that so far a reason had not been given by the HSE and that he personally could not “enlighten [anyone] to the rationale.” Meanwhile Green Party senator, Grace O’Sullivan said there’s a “weakness to the buy-in” from crucial bodies such as the HSE.
Asked whether Waterford was facing challenges unique to the south-east, Mr Purnell said it isn’t but also that the county still has much to confront. He singled out proscribed medication such as benzodiazepines as being a new difficulty for urban and rural areas. “But the main is still alcohol… [While] you can buy drugs in any town or village in the State at this stage.”

In a statement to this paper the HSE denied Mr Purnell’s claims, saying that it is engaging with grappling substance misuse throughout the region and that the SERDATF “continues to be funded by the HSE to support programmes throughout the South East to meet the five strategic goals of the National Drugs Strategy Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery 2017-2015.”

The statement goes on to say the task force is provided with €1.06 million by the HSE, going toward 12 specific programmes across the south-east. This, Mr Purnell told the Joint Policing Committee, is actually down from a previous figure of €1.7 million. The HSE reaffirms its commitment to the 12 programmes for 2018, noting that in County Waterford alone a total of seven separate community projects are supported thanks to the funding. “This ensures that all parts of the city and county receive a service,” the statement reads.
“The HSE’s five substance misuse teams in the South East, in partnership with these funded projects, are helping thousands of clients and their families each year who are affected by alcohol and/or drugs. The HSE’s Waterford city and county service provides treatment, support and advice and access to the service is through self-referral, GPs and other sources,” it concludes.

The importance of the task force was underlined by Waterford District Superintendent Chris Delaney, who said a key plank of the Garda plan to tackle drugs is to work with recovering users. “Many of the problems outlined [in this presentation, including theft and assault] come from drug use. For urban areas the plan is to target high-end dealing and work with reformed drug users,” he said.
However there were other concerns raised by Mr Purnell for people recovering from drug use. He described a sense among recovering users that they are being repeatedly targeted for searches by Gardaí. In the report to Waterford City & County Council it was recorded there were over 1,300 searches conducted in the first 11 months of 2017.

Similarly there is the issue of these troubled pasts appearing on a record. “Application rather than legislation needs to change, on the part of employers [and] educators. There are ceilings in place for people who have worked incredibly hard,” he said.

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