We need to collectively recognise the signs of early addiction

There has been much debate lately about the need for a detox facility for Derry. Detox is a specialised part of treating the issue of addiction in society, however it is only one part.

The source of addiction has also changed. For many generations the nature of addiction was in most cases alcohol or drugs. Today it is poly substances therefore the approach to treatment, rehabilitation and detoxification has also had to alter.

What Derry and elsewhere requires is support for early intervention – work that addresses the core, root causes of addiction and access to crisis intervention models.

We need collectively to recognise and understand the early signs of addiction and identify models of crisis intervention services to close the gaps which are there.

Over the last few months Sinn Fein has established an addiction taskforce in the city. To date, 20 statutory, voluntary and community organisations have signed up to this taskforce.

The aim of the taskforce is clear - it is to provide an evidence based case for Derry.

In essence it will examine what works elsewhere, where the gaps are and how we can close them.

There is no doubt that increasingly these gaps are about the fact that services and families hit crisis points - the commentary is often “I don’t know what else to do for this young person” and there is no protocol in place to ensure all of the services are “required” to come together urgently to develop an intervention.

This intervention is often a crisis model or what is increasingly referred to as a safe space model where the person can go with trained counsellors in a safe environment until the next intervention is agreed and not missed.

This is a similar model to the Nightingale project being developed in Belfast through the FASA organisation. Increasingly it has discovered that it is not detox but safe space/place to support the person in crisis and to copper fasten the next intervention that is required.

It may be that detox is the next step but then again it may not. During the recent inpatient Tier 4 consultation it was disclosed that the total budget line for addiction services outside of hospital and primary care was approximately £8m and that 40% of that budget was going towards dedicated detox facilities that were only addressing 2% of addiction needs.

Throughout the taskforce process local organisations have remarked on interventions with hundreds of Derry people where those requiring detox services were in single digits.

It is also worth noting people’s experiences where detox was a personal choice and one that required confidentiality in terms of treatment and location.

Many stories are reflective of people accessing services outside of the city to allow for confidentiality.

What is also ironic about this debate is that Derry has a purpose built rehab and detox centre on our doorstep.

The White Oaks facility in Muff, Co Donegal in terms of layout and location was purpose built for detox and yet it is not operational.

It is unacceptable that a facility such as this has a Service level agreement with Health and Social Care in 26 counties but has no such protocol for Western trust area.

This effectively means that this detox facility is not functioning to its full potential when a person from Derry going through rehab will have no follow up facility but a person from Donegal will.

This is a purpose built detox facility on our doorstep that services the North West without additional capital investment and which is maybe one we as city should turn our focus on.

Addiction doesn’t respect gender, class, disability, sexual orientation, age, religion or borders- it is important that we develop all Ireland strategies to deal with this blight in all our communities.

Health Ministers North and South need to give this issue their full attention.

The recent announcement of enhanced services in Omagh of rehab and detox on a 24/7 basis is an enhancement of services in the Western Trust area.

While it is accepted that this will not resolve all of our issues, it is none the less a welcome development.

Northlands Centre in Partnership with the University of Ulster Social Sciences Department is now undertaking the task to develop the case for Derry.

They suggest that “a significantly altered drug/alcohol science has presented us all with new challenges requiring fresh, innovative and appropriate responses”.

It is based on the principle that you cannot address a situation properly until you have obtained a reasonably clear understanding of it.

I welcome this work in terms of grass roots consultation, listening to people and communities directly and presenting the model that will address our region’s needs.

Of course there is an urgency to this debate and Sinn Fein won’t be behind the door in facilitating this work and addressing the needs of all people of all ages.

But it is critically important that this is undertaken with an evidence base and in an informed way that presents a unified case for the city and region.