Large numbers of people living with drug addiction were abandoned during the Covid lockdowns, according to support workers across Ireland.

At the height of the pandemic, drug and alcohol support groups were deemed as non-essential services. Their closure resulted in vast numbers of people being left without support during periods of prolonged isolation.

Figures obtained from a survey of 154 drug and alcohol support services revealed the extent of the problem, with 84 per cent of support groups saying they had seen an increase in drug use among clients, 87 per cent reporting relapse and 57 per cent seeing a rise in overdoses.

Too little too late

Shane Fallon, a facilitator at SMART Recovery, a substance abuse support group based in Cork, commented: “Thankfully the services are back now, but that doesn’t help the poor people that aren’t with us because of the decisions that were made in 2020. It’s too late for many people.”

Having previously struggled with addiction himself – making a full recovery thanks to SMART Recovery – Fallon added that trying to help addicts via video call had been a challenge.

“If I was still using in Covid times, I believe I could easily be dead. The support wasn’t there – it would be so much harder to quit,” he said.

The effects of this lack of support were most apparent in Dublin.

Hugh Greaves, coordinator of the Ballymun Drugs and Alcohol Taskforce, said: “I’d absolutely say that people have slipped through the cracks because of how challenging things became, and that’s across Dublin, that’s the wide experience of services I know.

“People who had been doing very well, they could be going six months without being seen, and might have started doing crack cocaine. Because when they were seen again, they’d be massively underweight and just look very uncared for.”

Guidelines for support services

The challenge faced by support groups did not end once restrictions began to ease.

Limited capacity at venues meant that the number of people allowed to attend meetings was reduced, with Covid guidelines for support groups remaining at a maximum of 20 people per meeting.

Fallon added that groups have had to turn people away who are in need, meaning they must deal with life-threatening drug addiction alone.

Although many centres have now re-opened and increased capacity, the number of rehabilitation beds nationwide is still 25 per cent less than in December 2019, meaning that one-eighth of beds have not returned since the start of the pandemic.

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