Written Answers. - Drug Treatment Service.

Seán Haughey

Question:

511 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Health and Children the measures he is taking to prevent heroin abuse; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19276/00]

Government policy in relation to heroin misuse aims at reducing the number of people turning to drug misuse in the first instance through information, education and prevention programmes and providing a range of treatment options for those addicted to heroin or other drugs, the ultimate objective of which must be a return to a drug free lifestyle, although this may not be a realistic goal in every instance, in the short term at least.

Health boards, in conjunction with a range of other statutory and voluntary agencies and community groups have significantly enhanced services for drug misusers and, in particular, those addicted to heroin. There has been extensive development of treatment facilities, particularly in the greater Dublin area, in recent years. The provision of treatment facilities for heroin addicts in Dublin has been a particular priority for a number of reasons including the protection of the health and well being of addicts themselves and their families, the control of the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C and the reduction of the risk to local communities and society generally from the sometimes chaotic behaviour of addicts.

Health boards are aware of the need for rehabilitation and aftercare as part of an integrated programme of care for drug misusers. It is important to acknowledge, however, that the success of treatment and rehabilitation outcomes for people who are chronically addicted to heroin are varied. Heroin misusers may present for detoxification several times before they achieve a long-term drug-free status.

Rehabilitation is given high priority, particularly in the Eastern Regional Health Authority area where the expansion of rehabilitation services is taking place. I fully support these important developments as rehabilitation and aftercare are seen as a vital part of a continuum of services in the overall treatment of drug misusers to achieve the ultimate goal of a drug-free lifestyle and to play a full role in society.

The Deputy will also be aware of the valuable contribution being made by local drugs task forces in providing a co-ordinated and integrated response in areas worst affected by the drugs problem.

My Department will continue to support health boards in expanding their range of services with the aim of having in place a continuum of care to which people using heroin will have immediate access whatever their place in the cycle of addiction. Thus, chronic users should be able to avail of needle exchange and low threshold services while those who are highly motivated to give up their drug habit should have access to detoxification and support services such as counselling.

At the end of August 2000 there were 4,813 people on the central methadone treatment list with 158 general practitioners and 218 pharmacies supporting the statutory services by providing treatment for heroin misusers in their own local area.