Heroin abuse spreads through rural Ireland

Heroin abuse has spread across rural Kerry and is no longer confined to poorer urban areas, according to the head of Kerry’s main addiction treatment centre.

Director of Castleisland’s Talbot Grove Treatment centre, Con Cremin, told a public meeting on heroin abuse that heroin is evident across both rural and urban Kerry and is “unusually, not confined to deprived urban areas.”
The meeting, organised by the Kerry-based Irish Needle Exchange Forum and held in Tralee last week, heard that heroin abuse in Kerry is no longer, as is generally accepted, confined to poorer areas and is now apparent across the entire social spectrum, especially in the late teens to mid thirties age group. According to Mr Cremin 2009 has seen a “very significant” increase in the number of people from across Kerry seeking help for heroin addiction with one person a week now seeking assistance at Talbot Grove.“I’m very concerned; there’s a big difference now compared with just two years ago,” Mr Cremin said.

Tom Wall of Tralee’s Arlington Lodge Hostel, a harm reduction treatment unit, said more affluent users don’t come to public attention because they have access to private care and don’t often enter the legal system. In response to the increase in heroin use in the county the HSE is planning to expand services for the provision of methadone to addicts in Kerry.At present there are two doctors in Kerry who provide methadone to addicts in the county but there is no doctor in the county qualified to prescribe the legal heroin alternative.Kerry addicts seeking to be put on methadone must travel to Cork to be prescribed the drug, a fact which according to experts is leading many addicts not to seek the treatment.

At a public meeting on heroin use in Kerry held on August 19th 2009, a HSE spokesman revealed the executive is planning to expand methadone treatment in Kerry. The meeting was organised by the Kerry Needle Exchange Forum, a group set up to coordinate all groups involved in tackling the spread of heroin use in the county.Chris Black of the HSE Southern Regional Drug Task Force said the HSE is in the process of assigning a ‘level 1′ GP who is qualified to prescribe methadone to Kerry.

However, Mr Black said that the current financial situation means it could yet be some time before the service is put in place. While a level 1 GP can prescribe methadone support, various services including urine testing, need put in place locally before the service can be rolled out fully. Speaking at the same meeting, addiction counsellor Bill Kelly of Cork’s Arbour House treatment centre, where many Kerry addicts are treated, warned against an over-reliance on methadone treatment.“Methadone is heroin by another name. The fact is that Dublin no longer has a heroin problem, it has a methadone problem. Methadone dependency is four times harder to handle than heroin,” he said.

Mr Kelly pointed out that family GPs can already prescribe alternatives to methadone, which can relieve heroin withdrawal symptoms without the harmful effects associated with methadone.
“The political will isn’t there to deal with the problem on a social level. Methadone is very valuable in some cases but its use should be limited,” he said.
“Methadone has been thrown at the problem in the hope that by swapping patients from an illicit dependency to a licit one the extra problems associated with heroin, such as crime and family problems, will be reduced. It’s a political solution to a social problem and that’s never a good thing,” he said.

“The vast majority who present don’t need methadone and it shouldn’t be given to them. They should be prescribed other drugs with less potential for dependency. Methadone is a cancer and for the vast majority methadone should be the last thought in a clinician’s head,” he said.
“This needs to be said more and it’s certainly not being said by politicians,” Mr Kelly added


Heroin use is on the increase in Kerry but mercifully the lethal drug has yet to gain a stranglehold here, as it has in neighbouring counties. While use of the drug has increased dramatically across Kerry in recent years, in rural and urban areas alike, it is not too late to take action and stamp out the nascent problem before it takes root.
That was the encouraging message that emerged from a public meeting on heroin abuse in Kerry that was held in Tralee last week.

Organised by the Kerry-based Irish Needle Exchange Forum (INEF), a voluntary group dedicated to achieving a coordinated response to the heroin problem by gardaí, treatment agencies and counselling centres, the meeting saw contributions from several individuals who are on the front line in the fight against the life destroying drug.
The key message that emerged from the meeting is that while there is a growing heroin problem in Kerry it is in its early stages and can be tackled successfully. If the scourge of heroin, and indeed of drugs in general, is to be defeated then we will have to think outside the box. Where methadone treatment and legal crackdowns on addicts and dealers have failed it is now time to examine alternatives including new treatments, harm reduction programmes and an increase in funding for treatment and counselling services.

Rather than criminalising addicts, a far more efficient approach to tackling the growing heroin problem would appear to be a medical approach whereby drug abuse is dealt with like the disease it is.

Improving garda resources is, of course, also necessary. While helping addicts by medical means and through counselling, the flow of drugs onto the streets must also be cut off through vigorous policing. If we are to beat heroin, and we can, hard choices are needed, especially from our political leaders. Old political solutions like methadone and harsh legal penalties for addicts have not worked and have done little more than drive the problem further underground.The first step for any addict is to admit they have a problem. As a county Kerry has acknowledged its problem and now its time to work towards a solution.

INEF are holding their national conference in Killarney on Thursday 5th November 2009 for more information click here