Addiction charities say State bodies not committing to funding

Second charity facing closure warns annual funding of €7,500 not feasible to operate on

  Jackie McKenna, cofounder of the Family Addiction Support Network: the charity helped 250 families last year but says it cannot survive on its current level of annual funding. Photograph: Damien Eagers

Jackie McKenna, cofounder of the Family Addiction Support Network: the charity helped 250 families last year but says it cannot survive on its current level of annual funding. Photograph: Damien Eagers

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

A charity providing addiction services has closed and a second one is at risk of collapse due to what they say is a lack of funding commitment from State bodies.

Volunteer group Family Addiction Support Network (FASN) helped 250 families across four counties in the northeast last year but it is surviving on annual funding of €7,500.

Jackie McKenna, who cofounded the charity more than 20 years ago, said it would be “no longer feasible to operate on so little”.

Another service, RASP, a community addiction rehabilitation service in Dublin North East – where addiction has worsened in recent years – used to see a minimum of 25 people come through its doors on an average day. However, after 18 months of a “crippling financial review” conducted by its primary funder, the Department of Education, it was “left with no choice but to close”, last December, its former general manager Pat Hanna told The Irish Times.

Funding of €170,000 annually kept the service afloat, allowing it to offer therapy to clients, as well as level six – or post-Leaving Cert – classes in counselling, horticulture, literacy support, and kitchen and washing facilities.

Uncertainty

“We were very much a one-stop-shop, from therapy needs to vocational needs, and we were busy. But then we got notice that we were going under review,” Mr Hanna said.

“There was never any financial issue. We had three audits a year showing that. Initially, the review was supposed to take three months. Then it went on for a year and then a year and a half.”

That uncertainty “didn’t please the banks or the staff, because we weren’t sure whether we’d definitely have funding coming in at the end of the year”, he said.

Workers became unhappy with the lack of job security, and talks about shifting the charity to being funded under HSE addiction services “never materialised”.

The fog of the Covid-19 crisis didn’t help with the delays. “Nobody cared because the pandemic was so all-consuming, and then we just became untenable. It was a death by a thousand cuts,” he said.

At a time when the rates of addiction have grown in the area, the closure of the service was a major blow to its users.

“It was re-traumatising for them. People presented to us with issues that had their roots in family disruption, so we really were re-traumatising them by closing. Knowing that was heartbreaking,” Mr Hanna said.

“Everybody was referred to other services, but it was sad the way it went; €170,000 was what it was about at the end of the day. When you think of the size of the HSE and Department of Education’s purse, it seems incredulous.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said its funding for RASP was approved annually, following an annual application process, and in 2019 the department advised the organisation it was “planning a review of funding of the project as one of a number of grants planned for inclusion in the review exercise”.

It was originally intended to complete the review before April 2020 but this “was not possible” due to Covid-19 restrictions.

It remained open to the service to apply for funding for 2021, but the department was informed in August 2020 of the organisation’s decision to close, the spokeswoman said.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said local drugs taskforce funding of €52,000 which had previously been assigned to RASP had since been transferred to the Dales addiction service in Darndale.

‘No commitment’

At the Co Louth-based FASN project, Ms McKenna said: “Drug violence and debt intimidating is increasing here, and the breakdown of family relationships is increasing. But there is no firm commitment to core funding for us, no timeframe on it, and we’ve just been left hanging.”

FASN operates on a unique model of peer-led family support and has asked the HSE for an additional €138,000 to maintain the services it is currently providing.

“There is a huge stigma attached to drug users and families of drug users. When people come into us, they start to take control back of their own lives,” Ms McKenna said.

The “new war”, Mr Hanna said, was to reinstate Keltoi, a HSE drug rehab unit which closed 19 months ago to operate as a Covid-19 isolation facility.

Keltoi, located at St Mary’s Hospital in Phoenix Park, Dublin, hit the headlines when two service users died soon after its closure. Minister for health at the time Simon Harris said it was intended that the service would be reopened for addiction support, but the HSE said Keltoi would continue to be maintained as a Covid-19 isolation facility for the coming winter period.

Funding allocation to addiction services had “increased over the past number of years” with an additional €8.35 million made available, a spokesperson said.