Woman 'would not have died' if methadone provided outside Dublin

Charity says young mother from midlands one of many coming to Dublin to get drug

The health charity Safetynet has said many people come to it from outside Dublin seeking methadone as they cannot access it locally. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The health charity Safetynet has said many people come to it from outside Dublin seeking methadone as they cannot access it locally. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

A woman who had to travel to Dublin to receive methadone before she died of an overdose would still be alive if it had been available “down the country”, a doctor has claimed.

Dr Austin O’Carroll, medical director of Safetynet, a health charity for homeless and marginalised groups, said many people from outside Dublin came seeking methadone as they could not access it locally.

He told a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health that the woman was unable to get the drug – often used by people seeking to overcome a heroin addiction – at home and travelled up to the charity “for her prescription, which was crazy”.

During one visit to Dublin, he said, the young mother stayed in a hostel and “was violently assaulted, ended up back on the streets because of the depression related to the assault and died three weeks later from an overdose”.

“I think if she had got treated down the country she would not be dead,” said Dr O’Carroll.

The committee, which was examining links between homelessness and health, heard there were “huge gaps” in drugs services outside Dublin even though drug addiction had become a more serious problem since the recession.

“There is a problem still down the country, we have a lot of people coming up to us who become homeless specifically to get on to methadone,” he said.

“I would say we’ve started over 500 people in the last four years on methadone through our homeless services, where we actually treat them in the community and I’d say a significant proportion of them have come up from the country.”

Depression

Dr Fiona O’Reilly, primary care general manager at Safetynet, cited a 2013 survey by the Partnership of Health Equity that found that out of a sample of 601 homeless people, almost all had health problems.

“Over half reported a diagnosis of depression and half the sample had both a mental-health problem and addiction problem,” she said.

“This I find really alarming – one-third of the respondents had self-harmed, three fifths have had suicidal thoughts and one in three reported having attempted suicide.”

Both Dr O’Carroll and Dr O’Reilly told the committee “flexible responses” were required to treat homeless people’s health needs. This was because homeless people live “more chaotic lives” and would not have a home address at which they could receive medical appointment letters.

Niamh Randall, head of policy and communications at the Simon Community, said “a cross-departmental response” was needed to effectively respond to homelessness. “The reason we’re in this situation that we are is because the State stopped building and providing social housing, and we need to be very clear that that is the solution,” she said.

Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan said as a society, “we have to ask ourselves the question as to whether or not we’re winning or losing the battle” against homelessness. “Unfortunately, we’re sliding down, we’re coming under more and more pressure, and I think we’re losing the battle,” he said.