Recovering addict: ‘I chose drugs over my family. I lost everything’

Ending addiction needs a focus on ‘health and human need’ of drug users,’ says charity

Merchants Quay Ireland chairman Mick Price and chief executive Paula Byrne at the launch of the MQI annual review. Photograph: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Merchants Quay Ireland chairman Mick Price and chief executive Paula Byrne at the launch of the MQI annual review. Photograph: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland


Declan Coyne used drugs for more than 30 years, and ended up homeless and in emergency accommodation as a result.

Now, after being clean for the past 16 months, he is getting his life back together and returning to education where he is training to become a social worker.

“I was functioning for a long time, but when the drugs got out of control, I chose to leave my family. I chose drugs over my family,” he said.

“I lost everything. I lost my home, lost my family, lost my business. I ended up in Portlaoise using everyday against my will. I met Merchants Quay, and they gave me the boost I needed to change.”

He added: “When you’re homeless, it’s very hard to get clean. If I had not gotten clean when I did, I wouldn’t be here today. I would be dead.”

Mr Coyne was speaking at the launch of Merchants Quay Ireland’s (MQI) 2018 annual report, which showed its Dublin needle exchange has seen the number of visits to its services increase by almost a third over the last five years.

The homeless and addiction charity said it had over 30,000 visits to its free needle service in the city centre last year, a 31 per cent increase in five years.

MQI also saw the number of people accessing its Night Café emergency shelter increase by 11 per cent when compared to 2017, with 2,129 using the service last year – the highest number since the service began.

In 2018, the charity admitted 169 people to its detox and rehab service and supported 389 people through its mental health service.

In her opening statement on the annual report, Paula Byrne, chief executive of the charity, said the greatest risk facing the country is “an acceptance of preventable tragedy as a normality”.

She highlighted that in 2016, 736 people died directly as a result of drugs – the fourth-highest figure in Europe.

“Amid high rates of homelessness and addiction, it is important to remember that we have the capacity to end these crises,” Ms Byrne said.

Ending homelessness will require “a sense of urgency and radical thinking”, while addiction will require a focus on the “health and human need” of drug use, she added.

The charity is calling for a number of measures to address these issues, including an increase in detox facilities, supported housing for people leaving drug treatment and continued commitment for the establishment of a medically-supervised injection centre.

Speaking at the launch, Minister for Health Simon Harris said Irish society needs to “cop on” in terms of its attitude and stigma towards drug users.

He said addiction is a “public health issue”, and also re-confirmed his support for a medically-supervised injection centre.

“It’s the policy of the Government to deliver a supervised injection facility and to those that seek to stop it, delay it or object to it, I say shame on you,” Mr Harris said.