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Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI), the State’s largest voluntary drug treatment centre, has had to close its premises and halt many core services including counselling, medical assessments, safe-injecting workshops and family supports. The Lantern, a residential detoxification programme run by the Peter McVerry Trust is cancelling treatments. And Keltoi, a residential rehabilitation programme for opiate users run by the HSE, has closed to facilitate segregation.

MQI’s needle exchange in Dublin, which provides clean injecting and smoking equipment, has been reduced to a take-away service operated from a hatch. Staff stand 2 m back, asking what the client needs and how they are, before handing them clean equipment in a paper bag.

“We are still doing in the region of 100–120 needle-exchange interventions every day”, says Laurence Moloney, manager of the MQI needle exchange. “So that’s not indicating any change in scoring their drugs, heroin or crack. But they can’t come in. It is a huge loss. There are needs we can’t meet at the moment, but the basic needs – safe, clean equipment – are being met.”

Clients are missing out on face-to-face support meetings as well as a full assessment of their needs – social, housing, emotional as well as drug-using equipment.

Maintaining connection is creating unplanned costs

Gary Broderick, Director of the Saol Project, which works with up to 150 women in addiction in north inner-city Dublin, is worried about women relapsing during the crisis.

“A lot of what we do is about building relationships, trust, connectedness, a safe place. The regularity of coming here is gone”, he says. “The only way we can stay connected at the moment is by phone or Zoom. But some are in hostels with no wi-fi and phone credit is a huge issue. We have had to buy mobile credit for some and last week we were paying for electricity for a client.”

Anna Quigley, coordinator of the CityWide drug campaign, says that the Government needs to appreciate that money being spent now because of the emergency will need to be refunded. People will relapse and recoveries will go back, and people will need additional support, she said.

An HSE spokeswoman said addiction services remained open but were prioritising opioid substitution (methadone and physeptone) treatment to more than 10,500 people across the country.

“The national addiction advisory governance group continues to meet on a biweekly basis to address any issues that may arise. We understand this is a risk time for individuals in terms of overdose and are advising all services to prescribe Naloxone to the cohort of people opioid dependent.”

Laurence Moloney worries that there will be relapses and perhaps deaths among an “already very vulnerable demographic” if the shutdown continues for long.

For information on any of AlphaBiolabs’ drug-testing solutions, including our Home Drug Testing Kit, please call 0140 29466 or email us at info@alphabiolabs.ie