THE number of drug users using a needle exchange service in Portlaoise has doubled this year, according to the head of the group that runs the local service.
Tony Geoghegan, CEO of Merchants Quay Dublin, is involved in the needle exchange service in Portlaoise, which has witnessed an increase over the last six months, from 12 people in January to 28 in June. Mr Geoghegan told the Leinster Express that this increase is in tandem with the end of a heroin drought which the country experienced back in November of last year.
“There was a lack of it on the streets and there was a diversification into other drugs, such as headshop products and benzal, but when it became available in March/April the figures went up,” he said.
The vast majority of those availing of the needle exchange service in Portlaoise are men aged 25 - 29, which reflects the national trend for drug use. There is also a significant number of female users, although Mr Geoghegan believes that the current system does not provide women with the proper support.
“There are lots of reason why women don’t come forward for help. Women are marginalised as the public view of female drug users is more discriminatory. A big barrier for women getting into treatment is kids. There are childcare concerns and they have fears of losing their kids. The public view is that a drug user must be a bad parent, but that’s not necessarily the case,” he said.
While there is a link between drug use and crime, with larceny being the most common crime committed by drug addicts, Mr Geoghegan said women have been forced into sex work to pay for drugs.
Besides operating needle exchanges, Merchant’s Quay also runs methadone programmes, although none are available in the midlands. Mr Geoghegan said that there has been no increase in the number of people attending methadone programmes at Merchant’s Quay in Dublin, although he points out that the service can only accept 50 people at a time and there are huge waiting lists for these programmes.
At the root of drug abuse are economic factors and he believes that, as the problem is one shared by all of society, what is needed is a practical approach to tackling poverty to curb heroin use.
“Everyone is at risk these days, it’s very uncommon for someone to go through secondary education and not come into contact with drugs. Some people are obviously more at risk than others, but rather than locating the problem in the individual and saying, ‘It’s your fault,’ this is society’s problem, it’s systemic. We’d be better off tackling this through anti-poverty schemes,” he said.