The National Drugs Strategy, ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery’ emphasises a health-led response to drug use, providing person-centred services that promote rehabilitation and recovery.
Expenditure on HSE addiction services increased from €94m in 2016 to over €100m in 2018, which has resulted in additional services in communities throughout the country.
The National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS) is an epidemiological database of treated drug and alcohol cases in Ireland. It records episodes of drug and alcohol treatment during the calendar year. The latest NDTRS data for 2018 show that over 10,274 cases were treated for problem drug use, an increase of 15 per cent on 2017. Thirty nine per cent of cases were new, with 57 per cent previously treated.
Opioids continue to be the most commonly reported main problem drug at 42 per cent, followed by cannabis and cocaine at 23 and 22 per cent respectively.
Among new entrants to treatment, cannabis is the most common drug at 38 per cent, followed by cocaine at 31 per cent. Two-thirds of treated cases are provided in outpatient facilities, with 14 per cent in inpatient settings.
The episodes of treatment captured in the NDTRS for 2018 include a very wide range of interventions and settings from services in the community to specialist residential units. Partnership between the health services and the community and voluntary sectors is key to providing support for people as close to home as possible and at the level of complexity that best responds to their need.
The Department of Health works with the HSE to raise awareness of the dangers associated with drugs through the Drugs.ie website. In 2019, the HSE developed and promoted two national campaigns aimed at students and the festival goers, who may not present at traditional addiction services.
Next year, the HSE will commence a targeted national campaign to raise awareness of the risks associated with drug use and recommend steps on how people can reduce the harms. This work will include information about club drugs, festival drug use, newer drugs, as well as cannabis.
A new educational resource ('Know the Score') on drug and alcohol use is due to be launched shortly for senior cycle students. This was jointly developed by the HSE, the Department of Education & Skills, and Drug and Alcohol Task Forces, as an action in the National Drugs Strategy.
I believe that the increase in numbers seeking treatment is encouraging from a public health perspective, especially as many also use other drugs. Mixing drugs can impact on recovery and increase the risk of overdose. I firmly believe that addressing the drug problem requires a multi-pronged approach, providing harm-reduction and prevention initiatives in tandem with treatment services.