Home > Happy 10th birthday to the Drugs/HIV Helpline.

Dooley, Aileen (2007) Happy 10th birthday to the Drugs/HIV Helpline. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 23, Autumn 2007, p. 23.

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On 21 July 2007 it was exactly 10 years since the Irish Drugs/HIV Helpline first opened its lines to callers from across the country. On its 10th birthday, we reflect on what has developed into a skilled, professional service that has a respected place among the substance use and sexual health services in Ireland. 

From the start, the ethos of the helpline was one of non-directive, non-judgmental support. Staff use active listening skills to help callers to explore their needs and. Where appropriate, callers are given information and contact details of the services available to them. The focus is very much on the caller, whether a substance user, a parent, a son or daughter, a teacher, a student or a service provider. 

The helpline was established primarily as a source of drug-related information and support, with the additional aim of reducing HIV transmission and supporting those with a positive diagnosis, particularly if linked to drug use. Perhaps the greatest surprise of the helpline’s 10 years is how the HIV-related calls have developed. The service dealt with just 19 such calls in 1997 and 79 such calls in 1998, and now deals with over a 1,000 HIV calls each year. Also, 73% of callers who referred to a HIV concern in 2006 were concerned about sexual encounters as opposed to drug use.  

The drug-related calls have shown interesting trends over the years. Cannabis has consistently been the drug most often referred to. In second place in terms of frequency were: heroin-related calls in 2004, cocaine-related calls in 2005, and alcohol-related calls in 2006. Helpline records can indicate trends in substance use and are a valuable source of information about drug use among individuals who are not engaged with treatment services. 

The helpline has developed a database of over 300 relevant services nationwide. This is updated regularly and is used in conjunction with a computerised call-logging system to ensure that the best quality information is given to callers and that detailed anonymous data on calls can be collated and statistically analysed. This database is a useful resource not only for people seeking support but also for professionals working in the field who wish to ensure that the referral options that they give to clients are up to date. 

In 10 years the helpline has dealt with over 45,000 calls. We hope to build on its strengths and focus on improving the quality of the service provided to the public. We hope that in the coming years the helpline will officially become a national service, and that staff vacancies will be filled and opening hours extended. We hope to publish some research related to call data and to make our services database an online resource. The helpline is currently open from Monday to Friday from 10 am. If you have any questions about this service, please give us a call.  

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Harm reduction, Education and training
Issue Title
Issue 23, Autumn 2007
July 2007
Page Range
p. 23
Health Research Board
Issue 23, Autumn 2007
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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