Home > Dail Eireann debate. Easing of Covid-19 restrictions: statements.

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Easing of Covid-19 restrictions: statements. (02 Feb 2022)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...

..Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Frankie Feighan):  As Minister of State with responsibility for public health, well-being and the national drugs strategy, I take this opportunity to say a few words about the easing of Covid-19 restrictions within addiction services and the continuation of measures to protect people who use drugs and alcohol and to strengthen services. From the outset of the pandemic, the Government identified drug treatment and addiction services as essential services. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the leadership and commitment of addiction services, including the HSE, community-based services and voluntary service providers in ensuring their services operated safely during the pandemic. 

There were many innovations in the delivery of drug and alcohol services during Covid-19, especially the use of online services. I want to ensure that these gains are captured in the strategic priorities for the national drugs strategy in the period 2021 to 2025. The additional resources I am providing for community-based drug and alcohol services and HSE addiction services in 2022 will consolidate these gains. Drug and alcohol support groups and treatment programmes help individuals to build recovery capital and to avoid relapse into harmful patterns of substance use. Over the course of the pandemic, the Department of Health developed guidance to support the continued operation of drug and alcohol support groups and treatment programmes. I want to acknowledge the co-operation of support groups with this guidance. I am pleased to say that in line with the lifting of public health restrictions, drug and alcohol support groups and programmes can now operate as normal, while participants are advised to continue to wear masks as appropriate in crowded indoor settings. 

I am aware of the constraints faced by residential drug and alcohol treatment services during Covid-19 due to social distancing and other public health measures. I support the efforts of the HSE and voluntary service providers to restore services to pre-Covid-19 levels. I have provided an additional €3.3 million to expand capacity in residential treatment services. Altogether, this funding will provide an additional 475 treatment episodes in a full year. 

During Covid-19, the rapid induction of new clients on opioid agonist treatment resulted in approximately 1,000 additional people receiving treatment. Not alone did this treatment help them to manage their addiction, there is evidence that it was effective in minimising the risk of contracting Covid-19 among this vulnerable population. The Department of Health has provided an additional €4.2 million to continue to support these new clients in their care plans. 

While I welcome reopening of the night-time economy, we must bear in mind the risk to public health from increased drug and alcohol use in this setting. While it is always safer not to use drugs, we have a duty to protect people who choose to use drugs in bars, nightclubs and at music festivals. The HSE nightlife campaign entitled “If you go, go slow”, seeks to create a safer nightlife experience for all participants. The HSE is promoting harm reduction messages through social media and providing information resources in nightclubs and colleges. I support the recommendations in the Emerging Drug Trends and Drug Checking Report 2021 for a health-led approach to drug use in the night-time economy and at festivals. The Department of Health will work with all stakeholders to ensure their implementation. 

A range of measures were implemented to reduce the spread of Covid-19 among people who are homeless and other socially excluded groups. The public health response greatly minimised the risk of illness and death from Covid-19 for these groups and improved their access to health care services. These achievements highlight the importance of homeless services and addiction services continuing to work together, as is committed to in the Government’s Housing for All plan. The Department of Health has provided an additional budget allocation of €10 million in 2022 to maintain public health measures for people who are homeless and to consolidate improvements in health care delivery. 

[Click here for the full debate on the Oireachtas website]

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