Huge drop in cases of young people addicted to heroin

‘Near elimination’ of new dependency cases in young people ignored in discourse, say academics

There has been a near complete drop in the number of young people addicted to heroin compared to the height of the drug epidemic which gripped inner city Dublin over two decades ago.

At the peak of the drug problem in the mid-1990s there was on average 180 adolescents treated for heroin addiction in Dublin each year. That figure has fallen to nearly zero in recent years, according to research by two senior medical clinicians published this month in the Irish Medical Journal.

There was a 94 per cent drop in the number of 15 to 19-year-olds treated for opioid addiction between 1996 and 2014. More recent figures up to last March show that downward trend had continued into the second half of the last decade, the research said.

In late 2018, a drug programme set-up to treat young people addicted to heroin Dublin shut its doors due to a lack of new patients.

“It was nothing to do with funding cut-backs or staff recruitment problems. The closure occurred as the patients for whom it was designed two decades earlier had largely disappeared,” the research stated.

The authors of the research were Dr Bobby Smyth, a clinical lecturer on addiction at Trinity College Dublin, and Dr Gerry McCarney, clinical director of a Health Service Executive drug treatment programme for young people.

“The dramatic decline in the use of heroin by adolescents in Ireland in the past 25 years has meant that specialist services for heroin dependent teenagers were no longer required in Dublin,” the authors said.

Research looking into why young people no longer started taking heroin found the dramatic decline was linked to an extremely negative view the drug came to be associated with since the 1990s.

The pattern of a sharp spike in heroin use followed by a consistent decline was seen in other countries such as England, Italy and the Netherlands.

The drop in heroin use follows younger people witnessing the damage the drug inflicted on previous generations creating a negative image, the research said.

The academics said it was remarkable that the “near elimination of new cases of adolescent heroin dependence has been completely ignored in the on-going discourse about drug policy in Ireland”.