The National Drugs Strategy commits in strategic action 2.1.14 to improve the availability of Opioid Substitution Treatment (OSTs). This is now known as Opioid Agonist Treatment (OATs) . The HSE is leading in this action, and it includes examining potential mechanisms to increase access to OATs such as the expansion of GP prescribing, nurse led prescribing and the provision of OATs in community-based settings and homeless services.
Over the last two years, arising from and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, significant progress has been made in this action, notably - a substantial group of 1000 additional people were inducted into the OAT programme. This was achieved through an allocation of additional funding of €4.2m from my Department in 2021 and significant support from community based addiction services, homeless services and GPs. Further resources of €10 million were provided to meet the health needs of people experiencing homelessness and addiction during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This work is continuing and in Budgets 2021 and 2022, I secured significant additional funding of €17 million to support the implementation of the health actions in the national drugs strategy.
Six strategic implementation groups with independent chairs have been established to drive the strategic priorities identified in the midterm review of the national drugs strategy which concluded in 2021.
One of the groups has specific responsibility for the third strategic priority which aims to develop integrated care pathways and harm reduction responses for high-risk drug users so as to achieve better health outcomes for people who are homeless, offenders, stimulant users and injecting drug-users.
High-risk drug users have complex health and social care needs that make them vulnerable to drug overdose and premature death. Integrated care pathways are required to deliver the best outcomes for this cohort, that connect care settings between GPs, primary/community care providers, community specialist teams and hospital-based specialists.
The issue of improving the availability of OAT under strategic action 2.1.14 can be examined as part of this process.
I am committed to supporting people with substance misuse issues on their journey to recovery.