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Sunday 25 September 2016

Cheap 'Benzos' lead to flood of young users at needle exchange clinic

Tony Geoghegan of Merchant’s Quay Ireland Picture: Damien Eagers
Tony Geoghegan of Merchant’s Quay Ireland Picture: Damien Eagers

Younger drug users and more women are coming to the capital's only needle exchange due to an increase in the use of cheap, widely-available drugs.

Of the 2,676 individuals who attended the needle exchange at Merchant's Quay Ireland (MQI) in 2015, 461 of those were first-time users of the service.

Tony Geoghegan, CEO of MQI, said poly-drug use is still common amongst drug users who attend the service.

The increase could also be explained in the availability of Benzodiazepines or "Benzos" which can be picked up for €1 or €2 Mr Geoghegan said.

"They crush the tablets and inject them," he said.

Injecting drugs can lead to a wide variety of health issues and in 2015 there were around 1,600 visits to the GP by people who accessed the needle exchange service for issues such as minor wounds, abscesses or more serious long-term illnesses, the experienced drugs worker said.

"People tend to get lured into injecting and it becomes a ritual in itself ... if you take a tablet it takes a while to come on but with injecting it [the drug] gets straight into the bloodstream," he said.

"Benzos are usually highly indicated in all overdose deaths along with opiates and alcohol," he added.

Mr Geoghegan said that the charity are pushing for more rehabilitation beds and better pathways to care for people who want to come out of drug use.

"If we really want to stop street drug use we need pathways out of it for people and it is also enmeshed with homelessness," he said.

MQI also runs some residential detox and drug-free rehabilitation programmes and in 2015 there were 175 admissions across these services with an 83pc detox completion rate.

MQI also run services for homeless people which all saw a significant increase in 2015.

Homelessness

The increase in people forced into homelessness because of their economic situation has made it even harder for those who are homeless because of mental health or addiction issues to seek the help the need he said.

"How can you tackle your mental health issues or your addiction if you are living on the street," Mr Geoghegan asked.

More than 7,500 people accessed our homeless services and the charity provided 98,865 meals for Ireland's homeless and hungry over the course of the year.

Another service run by the charity which saw a significant uptake was a night cafe which was opened in January 2015 as part of a range of measures introduced following the death of homeless man Jonathan Corrie.

Mr Corrie died in December 2014, just yards from the Dail where he was sleeping rough. During the year 1,972 individuals used the cafe, and the service was forced to increase to accommodate 70 people instead of the original 50 it was planned for.

Mr Geoghegan said the charity originally thought it would be an emergency response but that it is now a key part of the services run by the charity.

MQI's full annual report will be launched this afternoon by Drugs Minister Catherine Byrne. Work is underway in Ms Byrne's department on a new national drugs strategy which will come into effect next year.

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