ALMOST 500 people in Cork received therapy for heroin and other opioid addictions in the first six months of this year, new figures have revealed.
Opioid substitution therapy (OST) offers people who are opioid-dependent an alternative, prescribed medicine, in a supervised setting and can be effective in reducing injecting drug use and therefore, HIV infection.
Nationally, more than 7,600 people received the treatment, which is used to treat heroin addiction, so far this year, according to information released under the Freedom of Information Act.
While Dublin saw most cases, Cork saw one of the highest rates of OST treatment with 489 cases.
Lord Mayor of Cork City John Sheehan, who is also a GP, said: “There is a need to prevent people to take opioids in the first place because they’re highly addictive.
“They can be gained through prescription, the internet and even the street - that’s a big difficulty with them.
“When people are on them, it becomes their sole focus in life.
“They spend all their day and money trying to get them, whether it’s through a pharmacy, their doctor, online or on the street — it takes over their lives.
“It can have huge implications in terms of relationships, working, losing children and more.
“Someone who is addicted to heroin might spend on average around €30,000 a year on drugs.”
Dr Sheehan admitted that the treatment figures in Cork and across Ireland are worrying.
“It is a problem in Cork and across Ireland, really,” he said.
“Cork has had a problem for a number of years now and we need to be open and frank about it because it seems to be growing — not exponentially, but it is certainly growing.”
He said OST can stabilise a person’s addiction and allow them to start rebuilding their lives.
“If someone is taking heroin and you can stabilise them on methadone, then it takes away the criminality element where they’re buying illegally and maybe stealing to feed the habit, and all the chaos that comes with that,” said Dr Sheehan.
“It leads them to a level of stability where they can start to rebuild their lives and get back to work, education and things like that.
“Substitution therapy is just one part of the treatment package that is needed in order to help people addicted to opioids.
“Treatment also includes counselling and other aspects which are proven to have a positive effect.”
Dr Sheehan praised treatment services in Cork such as Arbour House and Heron House but said they are limited to what they can do unless people engage with them.
Dr Sheehan said the HSE drug community workers in Cork and across Ireland do great work in terms of engaging with people on the streets who are addicted and offering them the chance to be involved in treatment programmes and harm reduction.
He said that increased funding for treatment centres and more drug community workers could have a positive impact in terms of greater engagement and uptake in treatment programmes.