Methadone ‘not working’ for some addicts, says Minister

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin believes the National Drugs Strategy has lost ‘energy’ and ‘focus’

Methadone maintenance is “not working” for a cohort of drug addicts, according to the newly appointed Minister of State with special responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. He is considering a review of the national methadone protocol.

He also says he believes the current National Drugs Strategy, which expires next year having run for seven years, was “too long” and many of those involved in implementing it had lost “energy” and “focus”.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Ó Ríordáin says he does not think he now has too much on his plate. As well as his latest post, which brings him into the Department of Health, he remains Minister of State for Equality and New Communities (Department of Justice) and Minister of State for Culture and Commemorations (Department of Arts).

“The Tánaiste was minded to give me the job, so I’m delighted. I am across three different departments now, but I don’t think this new role is too much,” he says.

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A new National Drugs Strategy is to be drawn up to run from 2016. He acknowledges that many people feel the statutory sector has lost a sense of urgency about the drugs crisis.

The number of presenting heroin addicts continues to grow and drug-related deaths are up 50 per cent in the last decade, yet funding to local drugs taskforces has been cut by almost 80 per cent in the past five years.

Open discussion

“I want to have a really honest and open discussion about what happened with the last strategy,” he says.

He says the methadone protocol is not working for a proportion of addicts stabilised on the synthetic opiate. There are now more than 10,000 registered methadone users in the State.

“I want to talk to addicts and the people affected by this . . . For some people methadone has worked, for other people it isn’t working,” he says.

Problems with drug abuse affect every class and every part of Ireland, he says. The impact on poorer communities, however, is "more profound".

“Young people who feel they are not allowed into the mainstream economy may see [the drugs industry] as a viable option, as perhaps the ‘only way I can get some power for myself’.

“But it’s always the people at the lowest end of society who end up with the gunshot wounds or in prison.”

Middle-class recreational drug-users bear some responsibility for the problems in working-class communities, he says.

When it is put to him that one could hardly blame a middle-class student taking ecstasy for the devastation caused by heroin in deprived areas, he says: “Yes I can blame them, and I will. We live in a collective society where we’re all responsible for our own actions. If you take illegal drugs you are contributing to a gang culture which is causing people to live in fear, to be intimidated in their own areas . . . ”