The extent of alcohol and drug addiction in Derry and the wider area has been revealed after the Western Trust said over 5,000 patients were referred for treatment in the past two years.
It comes after a new report by the NI Audit Office disclosed that more than 200 hospital beds were occupied every day as a result of issues related to alcohol and drug misuse.
The report on addiction services in NI highlights the cost of substance misuse to the public purse.
Residential care has been partly reviewed and regionalised.
While this has been broadly successful for detoxification and stabilisation, the report says, more work is required to ensure that there is equitable access to rehabilitation beds, in particular securing access for service users in ‘all Trust areas’.
It concludes that substance misuse causes significant harm in NI, to individuals, families and wider society, with impacts on physical and mental health, unemployment, homelessness and criminal activity.
Alcohol misuse alone costs Northern Ireland as much as £900 million a year, with up to £250 million of this falling on the already stretched Health and Social Care sector.
Despite these significant costs, the Department of Health allocates a relatively small budget to tackling the problem - £8 million for implementation of its Drugs and Alcohol strategy, and a further £8 million for statutory addiction services from the mental health budget.
It equates to 5 per cent of the budget.
The report also reveals that prescription drug misuse is a growing problem in Northern Ireland, with the majority of drug related deaths now involving prescription drugs such as pregabalin and diazepam.
Northern Ireland prescribes more pregabalin and diazepam per capita than anywhere else in the UK.
Comptroller and Auditor General, Kieran Donnelly CB, said: “This is an increasingly unsustainable burden. Alcohol and drug addiction are complex problems and don’t occur in isolation. People need support with a wide range of issues, not just their addiction.
“It is disappointing that the Department has little reliable information on outcomes for people seeking treatment for addictions.
“The future focus must be on the impact services are having on people’s lives, not just the number of people looking for help.”
Locally, the Western Trust said it provides inpatient and outpatient services for drugs and alcohol addiction.
A spokesperson said, ‘contrary to earlier reports’, this includes an 8 bedded complex detoxification unit based at the Asha Centre, Tyrone and Fermanagh Hospital, in Omagh.
“This unit has been in operation in the WHSCT since 2016. The service also includes two community addiction teams, one situated in the northern sector, Woodlea House, Derry, and one in the southern sector of the Trust, SWAH and Tyrone and Fermanagh Hospital, and at other bases in the Strabane, Omagh and Fermanagh areas.
The Alcohol and Drugs Service in the Western Trust received 2,742 referrals to core services in 2018/19 and 2,281 to core services in 2019/20.
The Community Addiction Team are multi-disciplinary team which specialise in drug and alcohol assessment and treatment.
This may include community detoxification, brief intervention, advice, education, motivational interviewing, counselling, family support, mental health assessments, crisis management and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).
The Spokesperson continued: "The Western Trust Alcohol and Drug Service works in collaboration with service users and in partnership with family and carers, community and voluntary providers to ensure that the service user receives the most appropriate treatment in a timely manner by the right people in a suitable location.
“In Northern Ireland all statutory and commissioned voluntary services work within a graduated care pathway to enable access to appropriate care and intervention based on presenting need.
“These services provide interventions on a continuum from education and prevention to harm reduction to complex detoxification and inpatient rehabilitation treatment programmes.
“Access to statutory services is via patients own GP, probation and prison services, other mental health professionals and inpatient mental health wards.
“Access to commissioned voluntary sector services is through various referral routes including self-referral.”
Anyone who is in despair or crisis themselves or anyone who has concerns about a friend or relative should avail of Lifeline's free confidential support service.
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