Addiction counsellor numbers cut as drug problem escalates

Maurice Quinlivan TD

THE number of primary care addiction counsellors for the city has been steadily reduced by over 50 per cent at a time when the drug problem in Limerick is believed to have worsened.

The number of counsellor posts in the Mid-West region has been has been reduced from five to two in the last 11 years, Sinn Fein TD Maurice Quinlivan told the Limerick Post this week.

Deputy Quinlivan, who is also a director of the Mid-West Regional Drug and Alcohol Forum, says it is “incredibly worrying” that the amount of drug counsellors available is reducing at a time when drug misuse in Limerick is on the rise.

“At a time when we have never seen the drug addiction and the widespread availability as bad, and when open drug dealing is on your doorstep, the amount of drug counsellors available is reducing,” he claimed.

“We are making progress in raising awareness of the dangers of addiction, in both a physical and mental health sense; so it is disgraceful that the number of addiction counsellors in primary care centres across the Mid-West has been reduced by 60 per cent, when they would be required most.”

Last year the Irish Health Research Board supplied figures to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which noted that Ireland had the third highest drug-death rate in the EU, almost four times higher than the EU average.

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Deputy Quinlivan maintains that added to this issue is the constant battle many face with alcohol addiction in Ireland.

“Based on the figures in the Health Research Board’s National Alcohol Diary Survey, more than 150,000 Irish people are dependent drinkers, more than 1.35 million are harmful drinkers, and 30 per cent of people interviewed say that they experienced some form of harm as a result of their own drinking habits. Also, in recent years, gambling addiction has become one of the biggest social issues facing our society.”

He now wants the reduction in addiction counsellors in primary care centres in the Mid-West to be tackled.

“Five counsellors were working in the Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary area in 2006 and these posts have been reduced to two for 2017. Failure of the HSE nationally to progress recruitment is having a huge effect in Limerick.

“However, throughout this period we have seen a massive increase in alleged drug debts and the increased intimidation of parents and even grandparents. The Mid-West Regional Drugs and Alcohol Forum have taken cuts of more than 50 per cent since 2008. Funding this year see no real increase from last year. There is a clear increase in drug misuse and its related problems across Limerick.”

The Sinn Fein politician also maintains that failure to properly resource those working on the frontline to tackle the scourge of drug addiction, is simply not sustainable any more.

“Limerick does not have a detox centre for instance. Most services will tell you that they have a huge waiting list with staff under huge pressure to deliver basic services.

“Statistics on drug related deaths are equally stark. Between 2004 and 2014, the last year with available statistics, 6,096 people died of drug related deaths, with 697 dying in 2014 alone.

“In all my time as a community and political representative I have never seen the availability of drugs as bad. The Gardaí no doubt have had successes locally, but the extent of the growth and widespread availability of illegal hard drugs is beyond their limited and shrinking resources. Clearly all the evidence would suggest that the drug problem is going up and supports in the form of addiction counsellors is going down,” Deputy Quinlivan concluded.

In response, the HSE stated that the HSE Mid-West Drug and Alcohol Service has a number of contingencies in place at present to ensure that they are able to offer counselling across the region and to ensure that priority/ high risk clients are offered support and appropriate interventions.

“The issue of the vacant posts has been flagged within the system and the service has secured approval in relation to a recruitment campaign for counselling which we anticipate will commence shortly,” a HSE spokesman explained.

by Alan Jacques

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