Drug misuse a growing challenge for health service and society

Date published: 20 February 2019

Drug misuse poses a growing challenge for our health service and society as a whole, Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer has warned.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride

Dr McBride was speaking during a visit to Extern’s new services’ hub in Belfast city centre, where several of the charity’s programmes are now based, including its innovative Street Injectors’ Support Service.  Dr McBride got to see at first-hand the devastating impact that drugs and alcohol can have, and the valuable services Extern offers to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

He said: “Alcohol and drug misuse is an increasingly complex issue and a challenge for societies across the world which has been compounded by the ease of availability online.  Issues with drugs and alcohol can affect anyone and can have a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities. 

Pictured left to right: Thelma Abernethy, Assistant Director, Communities, Extern, Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride and Mal Byrne, Programme Manager, Communities, Extern
Pictured left to right: Thelma Abernethy, Assistant Director, Communities, Extern, Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride and Mal Byrne, Programme Manager, Communities, Extern

“In addition, the Health and Social Care system is facing growing demands on services on many fronts, not least from those presenting with drug and alcohol related problems at our A&E Departments.  This is a societal problem which none of us can ignore and we must all take responsibility and action if we are to ease the increasing pressures on our health system.  We need innovative ideas and approaches to deal with the increasing issues of drugs misuse.” 

In conclusion Dr McBride said: “We continue to place a high priority on addressing all substance misuse and will shortly begin a pre-consultation exercise on the development of a new substance misuse strategy.  I would encourage all those with a role to play, including organisations like Extern, to engage in this process and bring forward their views, experience and evidence of how we can best work together to address these issues”.

Commenting on Dr McBride’s visit, Charlie Mack, CEO, Extern, added: “Every day Extern sees the devastating impact of alcohol and drugs in people’s lives, so we are delighted Dr McBride is visiting our new hub in Belfast city centre to learn more about the increasing need for dedicated services to support people around these complex issues.

“Extern is known for its innovation in creating services which meet people’s and society’s changing needs, including our Dual Diagnosis Street Team which supports people who are chronically homeless, and who have both mental health and addiction issues, and our new Street Injectors’ Support Service, which in its first year has already saved 14 people’s lives on the streets of Belfast with the administration of Naloxone.” 

Extern work with key partners on issues including drug and alcohol misuse, homelessness, mental health and suicide, community safety, refugee support, environmental health, young people and families, skills and employability and justice.

Notes to editors: 

  1. The New Strategic Direction for Alcohol & Drugs Phase 2 (NSD Phase 2) is aimed at preventing and addressing the harms related to substance misuse.
  2. Approximately £8m is allocated to its implementation each year.
  3. The Department of Health oversees the Drug & Alcohol Monitoring & Information System (DAMIS) which is an early warning system for emerging trends in substance misuse.  This information may be used to inform future policy, raise awareness of potential trends and issue warnings when appropriate. 
  4. Extern’s Street Injectors Support Service (SISS) uses experienced staff to assertively engage with street injectors in Belfast and to collect and dispose of inappropriately discarded injecting equipment.
  5. Extern’s Dual Diagnosis Street Team (DDST) employs two dedicated social workers, experienced in mental health and addictions, to deliver an intensive outreach support service which is responsive to need. The service is dedicated to addressing community safety, housing and support needs of chronically homeless and rough sleeping individuals with co-occurring mental health and addiction issues.
  6. Anyone affected by drugs misuse should speak to their GP in the first instance or look at the range of services www.drugsandalcoholni.info
  7. For media enquiries please contact the DoH Press Office team on 028 9052 0579 or email pressoffice@health-ni.gov.uk  Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt

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