Health | Update on drug rehabilitation and treatment efforts
To ask the Minister for Health the extent to which he remains focused on enabling rehabilitation and methadone treatments for those who have been adversely affected by drugs; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The national drug strategy, Reducing Harm Supporting Recovery, strategy provides an integrated public health approach to drug and alcohol use, focused on reducing the harms for individuals, families and communities and promoting rehabilitation and recovery.
Methadone prescribing for opioid dependence remains a key element of the harm reduction approach to opioid use set out in the National Drugs Strategy. Methadone is one of the medications used in opioid substitution treatment, along with suboxone.
Opioid substitution treatment supports patients to recover from drug dependence. HSE addiction services work within the national drugs rehabilitation framework to support progression pathways. The framework ensures that individuals affected by drug misuse are offered a range of integrated options tailored to meet their needs and to create rehabilitation pathways.
Over the last three years and in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the HSE has examined potential mechanisms to increase access to opioid substitution treatment in order to promote the safety of individuals who were opioid dependent and at potential risk of contracting SARS CoV 2 and suffering morbidity and mortality. A research paper on the HSE Addiction Services response during the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the many adaptations to increase access and to reduce waiting lists.
As a result of these innovations and changes, the HSE Addiction services and community level 1 and level 2 GPs are providing Opioid Substitution/Agonist Treatment (OST/OAT), to an additional 1,000 individuals in October 2023, as compared with January 2020. The number of GPs prescribing buprenorphine-based products has increased from 37 to 61 in this period.
The majority of opioid users (73%) are aged between 35 and 65 years. This aging population is more susceptible to infection, overdose and suicide and present with higher rates of degenerative disorders, circulatory and respiratory problems, diabetes, hepatitis and liver cirrhosis than their drug using peers. This population therefore requires an accessible collaborative approach, within which GPs are ideally positioned to provide comprehensive care. The ultimate aim is to have an individual receiving OST/OAT as part of routine care delivered by their GP.
I believe that methadone treatment reflects the public health approach to drug and alcohol misuse set out in the National Drugs Strategy. Moreover, it is an important tool to reduce harm and to aid people to recover from drug use. I am committed to improving the availability of this treatment and to developing services to meet the needs of people on opioid substitution treatment.
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