An alarming picture has emerged of an escalating drugs problem in Waterford and the South East and the Government’s inadequate response to the situation. There is a distinct lack of treatment services available across the board and there are not enough gardai specifically assigned to battle the crisis.
Though the number of people seeking help for heroin addiction in the area continues to rise, recovering addicts in Waterford are waiting up to 18 months for a place on a methadone treatment programme. Figures released this week suggest heroin is the third most prevalent drug amongst those presenting for treatment in Waterford, after alcohol and cannabis. HSE statistics suggest that, of those who had injected, a quarter of local users had shared equipment.
Thirty-four children were treated for alcohol and/or drug misuse in the county last year, the HSE’s annual ‘Overview of Drug Misuse’ report (2007) for the South East has revealed. Waterford had the only known drug user under the age of ten, with four teenagers in the city aged 12-14 years receiving treatment. Three quarters of those treated were young men, aged between 20 and 24.
Alcohol abuse remains the foremost reason why most people seek help at treatment centres across the region, though the numbers being treated for both alcohol and cannabis have decreased since 2006 with cannabis numbers decreasing each year since 2003.
The amount of people seeking help for problems with heroin and cocaine continues to increase in the locality. The number treated for cocaine in Waterford rose from 18 to 27 over the 2005-2006 period and then jumped to 46 in 2007. The HSE report said some of the increases in the cocaine figures could be due to the media coverage following cocaine deaths last year, including John Grey (23) from Ballybeg and Kevin Doyle (21), Viewmount.
Especially alarming is the increase in those presenting for heroin dependency treatment and the insufficient level of services in place for those addicts.
cONIn the city, the number treated for heroin specifically rose from 26 in 2005 to 38 in 2006 and 57 last year. Two Frontline Projects, which provide services and responses for young people between the ages of 15 and 21 in Tramore and Waterford city, found that heroin was the main substance of choice in 27% of their contacts in 2007. The collection of data from such groups based in the community provides an early warning system on the changing trends in drug use, according to Tony Barden, Regional Drug Co-ordinator for the HSE South.
However though these warnings are being noted, the HSE response is far from satisfactory.
There are currently 35 people on the waiting list for substitute therapy methadone at Waterford’s drug treatment clinic, one of two clinics covering the South East region (the other is in Carlow). The clinic is operating at capacity (20). Drug campaigners say more treatment places are urgently required and the HSE has admitted that there are not enough hospital beds for detoxifying addicts. Amongst the reasons cited for the long waiting list is the unwillingness of GPs to take part in training programmes, along with the capacity of premises to cope with numbers presenting.
Other factors putting increased pressure on addiction treatment services across the region include a number of vacant counselling posts within the HSE, two under the Waterford Mental Health Services and one in Carlow. The Waterford posts have still not been filled due to outstanding industrial issues and training is currently in progress for the Carlow post, a HSE spokesperson said. The Munster Express understands that addiction counselling services at Brook House, on the Cork Road, are operating at full capacity, with no place for new referrals.
The Data Co-ordination Overview of Drug Misuse in 2007 gathers together drug-related data from a variety of sources, including treatment, hospital, Garda and probation figures. It deals with the HSE South-East area, covering Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary South, Waterford and Wexford. The main sources of referral were from people themselves (28%), hospitals (17%), courts or probation (14%) and family (10%). Of the total number of contacts in 2007 to services in these areas, only 14 per cent (370) were clients who continued their treatment from the previous year. Just over 70 per cent (1,880) were new referrals to the services that received treatment.
Responding to the report, both Fine Gael and Sinn Fein have called for more frontline staff to ensure a high standard of services for people seeking treatment for drug abuse. Michael Ring TD, Fine Gael’s spokesperson on Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, said the fact that less than half of those who joined drug treatment programmes completed their treatment means there was a problem somewhere in the system.
Sinn Féin Waterford City Councillor, David Cullinane, said the HSE recruitment ban was preventing the introduction of much needed drug treatment services even where funding had already been approved. “The Regional Drugs Taskforce is under-resourced while the Waterford City Task Force receives no funding at all”, he noted. Cllr. Cullinane added that the local Garda drugs unit, currently staffed by 8 officers, should be doubled in size to give it a better chance of dealing with the growing drugs problem.
Senator Phil Prendergast, Labour party representative for Tipperay South, echoed those sentiments, calling for an ongoing programme of enforcement and education, policing, health, education and social inclusion plans.