Extra services needed to deal with cocaine problem in Galway

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Two healthcare professionals in Galway have said that there is an urgent need for inpatient treatments services for people addicted to cocaine in the county.

In a documentary broadcast on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta on Wednesday, addiction counsellor Joe Treacy and GP Michael Casey called for better services after the Community Drug and Alcohol Treatment Centre in Merlin Park Hospital was burnt to the ground in 2013.

Joe Treacy, who has been working in Galway since 1989, says that the cocaine problem has increased significantly in the region particularly over the past two years.

“It’s down every bóithrín, in every village, every place, there’s nowhere untouched … there’s no age group, it’s 17 – 70,” he said.

“It’s terrible, and we can see it in the hospitals, in the courts, in the Garda stations … people say to me it’s pretty harmless… That’s what they think. It’s not pretty harmless, it’s very dangerous.”

GP Michael Casey described a similar experience, saying that in rural areas, people with symptoms are presenting now in the surgeries with problems related to cocaine.

“In Connemara, I have seen cases, especially in the last year… people don’t know the damage that drug can do.

“People are using it daily. It’s across the board, all professions, and people who should know better they’re using it too.”

Joe Treacy said that 900 people a year used to attend the treatment unit in Merlin Park, and that people needing treatment must now leave the county to get it.

“I have to say that there was a great service in Merlin Park when it was there.  We saw 900 people a year there. But there’s nothing comparable in Galway now. Those people are still out there.

“Those people are leaving the county and going anywhere they can … A big city like Galway and the services are not matching the population.”

GP Michael Casey said there should be a designated place, particularly in Galway city, or around the city, for patients with this problem.

Despite this, in a statement to the programme, the HSE said it was unaware of the need for extra services.

“The data available through the National Drug Treatment Reporting System from 2019 to 2021 is not showing a significant increase in the amount of people being treated for cocaine. Our treatment figures do not indicate a need for an additional residential treatment facility for cocaine users.”

Although there is an outpatient facility on Merchant’s Road in Galway City, counsellor Joe Treacy says that it’s not in a suitable place, as it’s too public and not accessible.

He said that the HSE was given advice about this service, but did not heed it.

Gardaí say that there was an increase of more than 50% in the number of people caught in possession of drugs in Connemara between 2021 and 2022, and in the programme they say that they have limited resources to deal with the problem.

Detective Sergeant Garda Colm Mac Donnchadha said that the figures don’t indicate the true level of the problem, just the resources allocated to it.

“For example, if it happens in 2023 that nobody will be caught in Connemara in possession of drugs, that doesn’t mean that the problem has gone away.

“It just means that the Gardaí don’t have the resources to tackle it.  If there’s an increase in the figures, that means the Gardaí have put more resources into it.

“For example, the 50% increase in Connemara between 2021 and 2022 shows that the Gardaí put more resources into it.

“It’s widespread, and the number of people caught in possession of drugs by the Gardaí is increasing year-on-year … but that’s only a small percentage of the drugs that are out there. We’re only getting about 10%.

“We’ve a big problem ahead with cocaine, not only in Connemara but across the country. From a rural perspective, this is not a problem we ever thought we’d see, but unfortunately that’s what’s ahead now.”

The programme included a personal description from a 32-year-old man of his cocaine addiction, and how it escalated from his first line of cocaine to a €500 a day habit.

It also included a description of the rehab services available in Bushypark in Ennis, Co. Clare, including the newly-launched Cocaine Initiative project supported by Bushypark and funded by the HSE.

Treasa Bhreathnach produced Snaoisín Bán, and it was presented by Cóilín Ó Neachtain.

The documentary will be available to listen back at rte.ie/rnag.