Sunday 17 December 2017

3,300 heroin addicts on HSE methadone for more than 10 years at a cost of €20M-a-year

Two addicts shoot up on the grounds of St Audeon's Church as tourists walk by
Two addicts shoot up on the grounds of St Audeon's Church as tourists walk by

More than 3,300 heroin addicts have been on a HSE sponsored methadone programme for 10 years or more.

The Herald can today reveal that over the last three years, it has cost the state nearly €55m to administer methadone medication to around 10,000 addicts.

Sources estimate that running the methadone programme for the last 20 years could cost up to €200m. Currently it is running at almost €20m a year.

The stark figures released to the Herald by the HSE under the Freedom of Information Act also show that 178 people have been on the methadone programme for more than two decades.

With the average current cost of maintaining an addict on the programme running at more than €1,700 a year, questions have been asked about the success of the plan which is designed to replace heroin with a less dangerous medication - ultimately with the aim of weaning them off drugs.

At current expenditure levels, the cost of keeping one addict on methadone for 20 years is €34,000.

Opposition spokesman on health Billy Kelleher (FF) has said a full independent assessment of the methadone programme is needed to see if it is the right one for all of those that are on it.

"The methadone itself is relatively cheap and there is a risk that it just gets dispensed to keep addicts quiet and reduce the risk of them committing crime when actually many who are on it might benefit from a different treatment," Mr Kelleher said.

"Some addicts have been on methadone for many years, and a review of the system is now needed by government.

READ MORE: Unease over supervised injecting centres

"We need to be braver in how we treat long term opiate addicts. There is a lot of human misery out there and we can't stick our heads in the sand over it," he explained.

"The whole drugs issue has fallen off the political agenda, and it needs to be brought back up," Mr Kelleher said.

He also said that not having a minister with responsibility for drugs was an issue he would like to see addressed.

Yesterday, heroin addicts continued to use St Audeon's Park in the city centre to inject themselves as tourists walked by.

The problem of drug users in the park, which is located near a busy primary school, was first highlighted by the Herald last month.

Photographs taken by Herald photographer Colin O'Riordan yesterday show that heroin addicts are continuing to shoot up unchallenged by gardai in broad daylight.

Dublin City Council workers collected almost 6,000 used needles and drug related paraphernalia from the south side park last year.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Merchants Quay project Tony Geoghegan which offers drug treatment in the city centre has said it can be debated if the current methadone treatment system is suitable for all those on it.

"Methadone is intended to take people out of the vicious cycle of criminality, but it can be argued that the current system does not provide a follow-through with a personal treatment plan to help people move forward," he said.

"There are thousands of people who have been on methadone for 10 years or more, and scores who have been on it for more that 20 years," he added.

"I would only see the current system as a partial success. It maintains people rather than moves them on," Mr Geoghegan explained.

Latest figures show that 7,425 (70pc of total registered addicts) being treated with methadone in Ireland are in Dublin.

More people are seeking treatment for heroin addiction in Dublin's north inner city than anywhere else in the country.

The numbers also reveal that Tallaght has roughly the same number of heroin addicts seeking treatment as in the south inner city.

From January to December 2013, 1,057 people were in treatment in the HSE's north inner city local drug task force area, while 806 sought help in Tallaght in the same period, close in numbers to the 798 that sought help in the south inner city.

The HSE Bray local district task force area had the smallest number seeking help in 2013 at 158.


The numbers of people in methadone treatment programmes at the end of a particular year is only between 12 and 14pc lower than those that were receiving treatment during that year, leading to questions about the effectiveness of the programme.

The number of people who are in treatment at the end of a year is also growing, with 9,251 in treatment at the end of 2011; 9,419 at the end of 2012, and 9,655 at the end of 2013.

There are now 663 pharmacies around the country dispensing opioid substitutes to drug addicts, a rise of 126 (23pc) in just four years.

But despite the massive government spend the number of addicts is rising instead of falling.


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