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Opioid addiction service waiting times fell dramatically

Waiting lists for opioid addiction services have fallen dramatically since the lockdown was introduced in March, it has emerged.

According to Dr Bobby Smyth, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, waiting lists for opioid addiction services are much lower than before the pandemic and in some areas “non-existent”.  

The immediate need to reduce spread of Covid-19 among the population prompted addiction services to take individuals on waiting lists for opioid substitution services into treatment without delay.

According to the Report on the Social Implications of Covid-19 in Ireland – Update 5 June 2020, in April some 514 more people were receipt of opioid substitution treatment (OST) than in January.

The report states that people who use drugs or have alcohol dependency face specific challenges during Covid-19.

“The use of drugs and alcohol can lead to health complications, such as a reduced lung capacity and a weakened immune system, making them more vulnerable to the virus.

“In addition, the mode for consuming drugs can increase their risk of infection, due to sharing or reduced availability of equipment. Other social factors, such as homelessness, can also be a risk factor. Beyond that, Covid-19 has impacted on the delivery of services for people who use drugs or have alcohol dependency, including those in recovery.”

Speaking to the Medical Independent (MI) last month, Dr Smyth said “the provision of methadone, the substitution aspect of treatment, has been enhanced as opposed to reduced”.

“There was a real urgency in getting people off waiting lists because people on waiting lists addicted to heroin were deemed to be very high risk for lots of reasons, and were at even higher risk than usual so we did our best to take everyone in as quick as possible.

 “Where patients were identified as having a need to cocoon because they were at risk of infection themselves, mechanisms were developed so that their medications were brought to them or collected by someone else to be brought to them.”

Within the wider addiction services, particularly in Dublin, there was a huge effort to maintain the integrity of that aspect of service provision, he added.

According to the report, “the HSE has put in place measures to maximise access to OST for homeless people who use drugs. Over 70 new homeless clients have signed up for treatment. For new and existing clients, special arrangements are being put in place to ensure continuity of supply during the crisis.”

The Department of Health is undertaking a rapid assessment of the impact of Covid-19 on people who use drugs and on the provision of drug and alcohol services. The assessment will be presented to the national oversight committee for the national drugs strategy.

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