Because we are often the first place people with problematic drug use turn to for help, the Health Promotion Unit (HPU) is an important part of early intervention. The key drug services that the HPU offers include providing people who use drugs with information about the risks associated with drug use and the means to minimize such risks. Merchants Quay Ireland offers people who use drugs a pathway into treatment and the possibility of living life without drugs, through our various addiction recovery services.
Our focus is on reducing the harm associated with injecting drug use, generating the motivation to become drug-free, giving advice on HIV and hepatitis prevention and providing information on overdose.
On average, one person dies of a drug overdose every day in Ireland – one of the highest rates of overdose deaths across the EU (EMCDDA, 2016). MQI is part of the Quality Advisory Group aiming to reduce Ireland’s tragic rate of annual drug deaths by rolling out access to a medication that can reverse an overdose as it is happening. It is an antidote for opioid overdose, in that it reverses the depressant effects of opiates such as heroin. Our hope is that eventually, all drug users in Ireland and their families will have access to this life-saving drug and it will be a key element of drug services in Ireland.
Working with Clients in Custody
MQI’s prison-based addiction counselling teams endeavour to provide links to homeless people and people who use drugs within the prison system. We offer support, advice and counselling with a particular focus on accessing appropriate pre-entry and post-release options. This process entails a close working arrangement with treatment services, probation services and with members of the legal profession. As ever, we advocate treating drug problems as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue, thereby avoiding costly incarceration costs to the taxpayer, while providing effective treatment to the drug user. During the COVID-19 pandemic, MQI worked with the Irish Prison Service to ensure that mobile phone counselling was made available to inmates, while in-person counselling was impossible.
Into Education and Employment
As part of our Community Employment Scheme (DSP), we provide a stabilization programme which offers structured life skills training, personal development work and therapeutic groups to help people who use drugs reintegrate into society. Life skills course content covers art therapy, cooking, drama, yoga, gardening, history, maths, & social outings. The group using this service are younger people, 83% of participants are aged between 18-39. The group seeks to establish a regular pattern of discipline and daily attendance in order to help people stabilise their drug use and prepare people for mainstream training and employment.
We are so grateful to our donors and ‘Business in the Community’ for helping us to provide work experience opportunities for those on the stabilisation program. Having a job and the means to pay rent are vital in helping people feel normal and part of the community.
In 2016, 48 individuals participated in the programme with attendance up 63% in the second half of the year (780 attendances compared with 478 for the same period in 2015). Not everybody stays with the program and some relapse into chaotic drug use. However, many people do progress to training, work experience or more structured abstinence-based treatment.
The pre-entry group provides support in maintaining stability and abstinence and preparation for the culture and workings of residential therapeutic community treatment. Knowing how treatment centres operate can make it less daunting for those who have no experience and can help them to stay the course and be successful in treatment.
In November 2016, Merchants Quay Ireland was awarded the contract to provide a Community-based Drug & Alcohol treatment support service for individuals over 18 years and their families for the Midlands area to include Longford, Westmeath, Laois & Offaly. This drugs service will complement and enhance existing statutory, community and voluntary services operating in the region. The service will provide appropriate interventions to over 18’s and their families, in line with the best international research and standards.
Medically Supervised Injecting Facility
On the 16th February 2018, MQI was announced as the preferred operator of Ireland’s first Medically Supervised Injecting Facility (MSIF). The MSIF is a government-led initiative, entirely funded by the HSE. The proposed location for this 18-month lifesaving pilot programme is the basement of our Riverbank Centre on Merchants Quay.
Leave to apply for a Judicial Review of the decision by An Bord Pleanála was granted by the High Court in February 2020. The decision by An Bord Pleanála to grant planning permission for the reconfiguration of MQI’s Riverbank building, to provide for a medically supervised injection facility, was ruled invalid, following a judicial review. MQI remain committed to the opening of an MSIF as part of a health led approach to addiction. There is a clear need for this facility. These services save lives.
MQI CEO Paula Byrne says:
Delivery of a MSIF pilot is a key objective of the National Drug Strategy: Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, and is part of the Programme for Government. It is a vital healthcare service which will allow us to reach people who are vulnerable, marginalised, and often very sick, by offering them access to medical & nursing services as well as treatment options. With one death every day in Ireland from a drug overdose, this facility will save lives.
There is substantial evidence worldwide that MSIFs reduce public injecting, reduce discarded drug litter, and, most importantly, save lives.
We appreciate there are concerns, particularly among the local community, but we ask that they work with us on this. The MSIF will help save lives and get people into treatment, and it will also help to make the community a safer place for everyone.
We will update our website and social media pages as soon as we have further information on developments relating to the MSIF.
The MSIF will be a clean, safe, medically supervised service for people who inject drugs. As a compassionate, person-centred healthcare environment, which respects the dignity of service users, we believe that the MSIF will be a vital first step in reducing harm and supporting a person towards recovery. Staffed by experts with full nursing and medical services, it will provide opportunities for intervention, helping reduce the harms associated with injecting drug use and helping link vulnerable people in with drug treatment supports and health services.
With one person a day dying from a drug overdose, the MSIF is a positive, practical, and health-led response to drug use and a much needed addition to drug services in Ireland. Treatment and recovery from addiction are only possible if a person is alive.
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