Drug use and homelessness are continuing to rise in Ireland, according to the latest annual report of Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI).
The charity, which works with drugs users and homeless people, is now delivering services to almost 10,000 people in 11 counties nationwide.
According to its 2009 report, the heroin problem ‘has continued to grow in Dublin', with almost 650 new injectors presenting to the MQI Needle Exchange Services last year.
However it also noted a ‘sharp rise' in numbers attending MQI services in the midlands. It said that over 200 people are now engaging with the MQI Midlands Community Harm Reduction Service per year, while a further 150 are engaging with the Midlands Family Support Service.
Meanwhile, the number of people availing of the MQI prison-based addiction counselling service, which operates in 13 prisons nationwide, exceeded 1,000 for the first time. In total, almost 1,200 prisoners used the service last year, more than half of whom were heroin users. Almost one in five sought help for alcohol addiction.
The report also showed that the number of people using MQI's homeless services increased by 17% in the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 2009.
Speaking at the launch of the report, MQI director, Tony Geoghegan, pointed out that despite increased demand for services, the charity has suffered ‘sharp funding cutbacks'.
"In 2009, we took a range of difficult steps to ensure that we could protect, grow and develop our frontline services to meet the increased need. We significantly pared back our costs in relation to areas like administration, research, training and other back office functions, while at the same time agreeing new working arrangements with staff to ensure that we could develop new much needed initiatives for our service users," Mr Geoghegan explained.
He said that the groundwork undertaken in 2009 and earlier this year had allowed MQI to put in place a range of new initiatives, including:
-The development of aftercare accommodation and vocational training initiatives for people completing residential drug treatment. This is being carried out in partnership with Coolmine Therapeutic Communities and Respond! housing in Dublin.
-The range of services being offered across the four midland counties of Westmeath, Offaly, Longford and Laois has been increased. MQI now has premises in both Athlone and Portlaoise and offers a range of services including family support, community harm reduction, rehabilitation and aftercare services.
Mr Geoghegan emphasised that dealing with the drug crisis is ‘fundamentally about reducing human misery' and should not be ‘reduced to economics'.
Nonetheless, investing in harm reduction services directly reduces healthcare expenditure, he pointed out.
"Investment in drug substitution treatment has been shown to reduce other healthcare costs and to reduce crime, and investment in drug-free treatment and aftercare can reduce expenditure on healthcare, criminal justice and social welfare. Most of all, investing in all of these areas reduces the misery associated with drug use for everybody," he said.
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