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We must tackle the scourge of addiction

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 13/01/2017

The problem of alcohol and drug abuse and addiction is clearly evident on the streets of our cities, towns and even villages. It is a problem that is increasing with the growing availability of and dependence on illegal drugs. Image posed by model. Photo: David Jones/PA Wire
The problem of alcohol and drug abuse and addiction is clearly evident on the streets of our cities, towns and even villages. It is a problem that is increasing with the growing availability of and dependence on illegal drugs. Image posed by model. Photo: David Jones/PA Wire

The problem of alcohol and drug abuse and addiction is clearly evident on the streets of our cities, towns and even villages. It is a problem that is increasing with the growing availability of and dependence on illegal drugs.

A census of alcohol and drug treatment services published by the Department of Health showed that on September 1, 2014, some 8,553 people were receiving treatment for the abuse/misuse of drugs or alcohol.

That snapshot was a 45% increase on the number receiving treatment only two years earlier.

There is no reason to suppose that demand for treatment has lessened in the period from when the census was taken until now.

What was equally telling about the study was the revelation that the majority of clients (54%) were receiving treatment from non-statutory organisations.

Without those organisations, some might say even including them, the statutory sector would be overwhelmed.

It therefore is welcome that Health Minister Michelle O'Neill has decided to save the Northlands treatment centre in Londonderry, which was facing closure after a decision to phase out its core funding.

The centre had been receiving total funding of £700,000 a year, £200,000 from the Department and £500,000 from the now disbanded Health and Social Care Board.

That enabled it to provide treatment to 600 people on a non-residential basis, 60 people on a residential basis and 100 family support places.

Addiction is a terrible problem that affects not only addicts, but also their families.

How often have we read reports of addicts in the depths of despair who went on to self-harm because they could not access help swiftly enough or at all?

Even when treatment is available, it may only deal with the immediate problems associated with addiction. When those are solved, there can be a lack of follow-up provision.

Given the dependence of health authorities on non-statutory organisations to help addicts and their families, it makes little sense for that work to be imperilled through lack of funding. By their very nature, such organisations must be more cost-effective than statutory care.

The minister's decision gives a short-term lifeline to Northlands, but its long-term future and that of similar organisations should be prioritised to deal with this serious and growing health problem.

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