By Deborah Condon
Ireland has one of the highest levels of drug-related deaths in Europe. However despite the fact that needle exchange programmes have proven to be highly effective at reducing the potential risks associated with drug use, there is only one full-time needle exchange service in the country.
According to Dublin-based Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI), which provides services to homeless people, drug users and other excluded members of society, there are at least 15,000 heroin users in Ireland, the majority of whom live in the Dublin area.
Since 1997, over 10,000 heroin users have gone to MQI for help, which represents one in every 100 people in Dublin.
The organisation has launched a major nationwide campaign, 'Dealing with Drugs, in an attempt to highlight the damage and dangers associated with problem drug use. The campaign also encourages government, business and the wider community to increase their efforts in dealing with the drug problem in Ireland.
"Problem drug use not only affects individual drug users, but also blights families, relationships, friendships and communities. The aim of the campaign is threefold; to raise public awareness of the problems and risks associated with heroin use in Ireland, to highlight the solutions that work and to challenge the negative stereotyping of drug users as both inaccurate and unhelpful", said Tony Geoghegan, director of MQI.
Some of the facts that will be highlighted during the campaign are:
- Ireland has one of the highest levels of drug-related deaths in Europe, rising from seven in 1990 to 90 in 1999.
- There is only one full-time needle exchange service in Ireland. There are no evening or weekend needle exchange facilities.
- There are less than 200 residential detoxification beds in the country.
- More drug users are currently outside of treatment, than are on treatment programmes.
According to Mr Geoghegan, negative stereotypes of drug users make it harder for communities to accept the establishment of services in their midst and for drug users to feel confident enough to engage in treatment.
"Many people think the drug problem is one with no solution. That is not true. Our experience at MQI is that drug treatment works and that investment in drug treatment will pay big dividends for all affected by this problem", he added.
MQI provides services ranging from crisis intervention and health and promotion services to educational programmes and vocational training.
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