There has been a worrying increase in the number of young people under the age of 18 being referred to local drug and alcohol addiction services in the past year, according to Cavan Drug Awareness (CDA).
The community-based group meanwhile continues to struggle to balance a lack of financial resources against increasing demand.
Mainly presenting addiction issues for cannabis use, MDMA, cocaine and alcohol, with seven referrals in 2012, that figures already looks like doubling by year end, 2013. Teenagers as young as 16, the majority males, have been referred to CDA from social services, Juvenile Liaison officers and occasionally Youthreach.
“Obviously these young people are often referred because they are engaging in high risk behaviour and have come to the attention of criminal justice,” Tim Murphy, project coordinator with the CDA Trust Ltd told The Anglo-Celt.
Former head shop drugs now available on streets
While the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 outlawed the sale of synthetic drugs, the types once available from head shops, Mr Murphy says there is serious concern regarding newer synthetic drugs readily available on the illicit drugs market.
While the loophole allowing their availability has been stitched-up, Mr Murphy says: “the drugs are still around. They’re still available on the black market.
“Where I’ve been working in addiction services for 10 years or so, people would come in and say ‘I’ve a heroin, cocaine or alcohol issue’ and within reason you know how to best apply therapy to that. But with the head shop drugs we’re sailing uncharted waters because there are so many different substances now.”
Services such as the CDA are attempting to assess the fall-out of addiction to substances manufactured in laboratories.
“It’s very, very difficult to keep up. The way they were sold when they were legal was very vague. The packet would say one thing... what was actually inside was maybe a mixture of four or five different substances,” he says, highlighting how stretched CDA’s resources are with an issue of such magnitude.
“We’re covering alcohol, hard drugs, under-18s, methadone, needle exchange with the Ana Liffey Drug Project, treatment and therapy and counselling too, and we’re doing that across two counties (Cavan and Monaghan). There are times when it just doesn’t add up.”
Uncertainty in addiction services sector
Five Ministers at the Department for Health with responsibility for drug and addiction services in four years, and a constant threat on capital resources clearly hasn’t helped the national fight against drugs.
On a budget of €198,000, less than €17,000 per month, CDA provides for two full-time project workers and two part-time counsellors, and relies heavily on the support of volunteers to maintain services. Over 50 individuals attend its Cavan service weekly for support with a primary heroin addiction, with a further 40 attending between Cavan and Monaghan for other substance issues. Other services include family support.
Alcohol remains the most prevalent cause of addiction among clients presenting to CDA, with a ratio of two-to-one when compared to other substances. There are 30 individuals on CDA’s waiting lists, with an eight-week wait in Cavan and five weeks in Monaghan. Only the welcome reinstatement of €13,000 in funding - money cut as the Drugs Policy Unit at the Department of Health examined expenditure - allowed the organisation maintain its service in Monaghan, where CDA believe its only beginning to lift the lid on addiction issues.
Aside from court donations, such as those ordered by Judge Sean MacBride, income from donations is also down from last year.
Balancing budgets and delivery of service
“That money allows us to provide extra counselling because we never have enough, and we never have had enough, but what we get is used to then shore up what’s there. We’re constantly plugging gaps where we see them,” Mr Murphy states.
He says there are HSE-funded community drug teams to look after the methadone programme, counselling support and after-care programme, in other places including Dundalk and Drogheda - “but they’re also under-funded and we’re all pulling from the same pot.”
The CDA prioritises under-18s, those with pregnancy or with mental health issues, people recently released from prison with a history of drug dependency, but even this wait can be up to four weeks.
“At present we are only able to provide the necessary therapeutic/rehabilitation supports to a third of those attending for methadone treatment. In order just to cover the minimum standards and deliver the actions laid out in the National Drug Strategy I need at least two more full time workers for the methadone clinic and a third to cover the other work.”
With aims such as the establishment of a residential treatment unit in the region now on the long finger, Mr Murphy states while CDA’s primary funding body the North Eastern Drugs Taskforce and the DPU are fully aware of the issues at hand, the problem every organisation faces is that the money just isn’t there to go around.
“The next budget will be very important in determining what we can do in the year ahead,” he says.
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