MORE people are on methadone in the Limerick area than in any other region outside of Dublin/Mid-Leinster, new figures from the HSE show.
Data from the Mid-West Regional Drugs Taskforce show 276 people were prescribed the opiate substitute in the region in 2011.
And Cllr Maurice Quinlivan, a member of the taskforce, believes this figure is exceeded by the hundreds of heroin users who have not made efforts to quit and that the problem is getting worse.
“We do have clear indications that cocaine use is down but the heroin problem in Limerick shows no sign of abating. Obviously this creates huge problems in terms of people carrying out burglaries and thefts to either feed their habit or pay off drug debts,” said Cllr Quinlivan.
Figures show that the number of people on methadone programmes in the Mid-West rose only marginally in the last three years, from 261 to 276.
“That shouldn’t be taken as meaning that heroin use has plateaued and I am concerned it still has the potential to grow significantly. There are many more people out there who are not looking for help and others who are not suitable for methadone,” said Cllr Quinlivan.
Of the 276 who were on methadone last year, 78 were women and 43 were inmates of Limerick Prison. And four teenagers in the region took courses of methadone last year.
The Mid-West now accounts for 2.6 per cent of the total number of people in treatment nationally, according to the HSE figures.
And Cllr Quinlivan said “practically all of these cases relate to Limerick city”.
“There are smaller localised problems in Roscrea and Kilrush but the vast, vast majority relates to the city.”
Cllr Quinlivan believes the figures strengthen the case for a local drugs taskforce for Limerick city. Cork has its own taskforce and the figures show 222 people on methadone courses in that city last year, more than 50 less than in the Mid-West. And the western regional drugs taskforce, which includes Galway city, saw 131 people on methadone.
Outside of Dublin, only the midlands (Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Longford) had more people in programmes to get off heroin.
“I think the figures show there is a requirement for something I have been calling on for a long time, which is a dedicated drugs taskforce to deal with the problem in Limerick city,” Cllr Quinlivan said.
“The other action that needs to be taken and something which the taskforce itself should have delivered years ago, which is to provide detoxification beds in Limerick.”
There was a huge shortage of such beds nationally, he added.