The number of heroin users in Westmeath engaging in a methadone programme has risen by almost 75 per cent in the last three years, it was revealed this week.
Fran Byrne, regional manager of CADS - the HSE’s Community Alcohol and Drug Service across Laois, Offaly, Longford, and Westmeath - explained how the number of “service users” being dispensed methadone across the four-county region rose from 204 in 2010 to 360 this year, but was of the opinion this was because of greater engagement with CADS rather than an increase in usage.
In the same period GPs participating in the methadone maintenance programme (MMP ) have risen from nine to 15, while pharmacists has increased from 35 to 41 over those three years.
These were just some of a number of telling facts that came to light in an illuminating HSE report on the region’s detox facilities at this quarter’s Athlone/Kilbeggan Area joint policing committee meeting, held at the Civic Centre in Athlone on Friday, October 11.
Before going through the extensive services and programmes that CADS offered, Ms Byrne was at pains to stress they are all free.
“We are trying to put it out there that there is no fee. CADS is a free-of-charge service. We provide assessment and treatment in the community for adults and under-18s concerned with their, or another person’s, drug use,” she said.
She conceded that over the last number of years, the number of under-18s seeking treatment has risen.
“Ten years ago you might have had one or two 17-year-olds, now we are treating 15- and 16-year-olds,” she pointed out.
She explained how CADS “assess and treat, where appropriate”.
“We try to mould the service around their needs, but some clients lives can be so chaotic,” she explained.
CADS operates out of St Vincent’s in Athlone, but is moving to the new health campus in Clonbrusk before the end of the year.
“We needed a separate unit because of the stigma associated with our clients,” she said.
In Mullingar the service is run out of the INCA building on Martin’s (aka Shaws ) Lane, with a new treatment centre “imminent”, while demand-led satellite clinics operated in Kinnegad and Moate.
Each centre has a GP, two nurses, two counsellors for referrals, and admin staff. Referrals were working so well that Ms Byrne told the meeting that one individual client was “engaging with 17 different services”.
She explained how CADS offered community-based detox from methadone and benzodiazepines, as well as for over-the-counter medication, gambling, and alcohol addictions.
The programme offered methadone maintenance and reduction; urinalysis; psychiatric assessment, and treatment if required; a full viral screen; vaccinations for hepatitis; and wound care, which she stressed was a very important part of their service.
“There are people coming in still injecting, but not doing it properly, and abcesses occur very quickly. We show them how to do it properly, otherwise they’re ending up clogging up A&E unnecessarily,” Ms Byrne pointed out.
CADS liaise with all the major organisations to the fore in this field - like Merchants Quay Ireland, Ana Liffey Drug Project, the Midland Regional Drug Task Force, and the Simon Community - and “facilitates the movement of stabilized clients back into community GP care”.
“It has been very successful, even if the GPs were a little slow at first,” said Ms Byrne.
She also explained how CADS needle exchange programme - in association with the Elton John Foundation - has led “to a huge decrease in theft from hospitals”.