Zoe Wells, CAMDAS Co-ordinator

Sharp rise in alcohol referrals during pandemic

Issues with alcohol increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Six in 10 referrals to a local addiction support service in Cavan and Monaghan related to alcohol issues.

It compares to four in six in 2019, according to analysis of clients engaging with the Cavan and Monaghan Drug and Alcohol Service (CAMDAS).

Meanwhile people struggling with heroin and cocaine addiction during lockdown currently make up eight per cent each of the client list.

Service co-ordinator Zoe Wells says the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on the numbers.

“The lack of social connection and isolation increase people’s mental health issues,” she said. The service has seen an increase in “co-occurring disorders”, where a person is tackling addiction and another issue, such as with their mental health.

The age profile of people referred for alcohol problems is increasing, according to Ms Wells, but she says this could be down to the appointment of an alcohol liaison nurse in Cavan General Hospital.

This role has allowed for someone admitted to the hospital with an alcohol problem to receive help from CAMDAS more quickly.

However, a lack of joined up thinking and organisations not playing their part was highlighted at the September Joint Policing Committee (JPC) meeting in Cavan.

Cootehill Councillor Carmel Brady said the HSE in particular “need to pull their weight”.

Ms Wells says there are issues that need to be worked on.

“There does need to be more in collaboration” she says. “The challenge for all agencies, statutory, community or voluntary, is the wait times that they have and engaging with the clients to support them to better outcomes,” outlines Ms Wells.

“We need to do more to engage people who go into hospital for detox as there can be a gap between people being discharged from hospital and engaging with us”, she adds.

Some 200 referrals were received by CAMDAS between January and August of this year. While that figure is in line with previous years, some services find themselves under pressure.

Counselling services in particular face delays due to the number of people requiring help, according to Ms Wells.

While the pandemic has brought its challenges, she said it has also allowed the service to reach people who they wouldn’t have been able to in the past through online and blended engagement.

“Travel has always been an issue. There are only two buses from Bailieborough to Cavan Town,” she says.

The new way of working is to continue as it allows CAMDAS to be more “client centred”.

The Cavan and Monaghan Drug and Alcohol Service is set to be officially relaunched later this month, after its merger with Merchants Quay (MQI).

The move came about after concerns over the future viability of the local service due to a lack of funding.

In 2018, former Co-ordinator Tim Murphy highlighted how the service’s funding had not increased in the previous eight years, while the costs associated with running it continued to go up.

Ms Wells, Mr Murphy’s replacement as manager, says Cavan and Monaghan in particular seem to be under-resourced.

“We would have better outcomes if we responded quicker. Wait times have always been challenging to manage and that’s not going away,” she says.

That, coupled with each person’s unique recovery path, means it can be difficult to work with everyone in need of help, particularly as some, including pregnant women, must be prioritised.

Ms Wells, who worked with the CDA for the past six years, took over as service co-ordinator in January.

She says she doesn’t expect any impact on the programmes and services provided and is hopeful some new ones could come onstream locally.

Ms Wells is hopeful a needle exchange programme could be launched locally, something MQI already has up and running in other parts of the country.

“What Merchants Quay brings is the harm reduction, needle exchange type of thing, which I’m hoping it will add to what we’ve got already,” she said.

Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy will visit services locally and launch CAMDAS in Cavan on September 21.