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Addiction treatment in Northern Ireland: a review

A High Court judge in Northern Ireland has publically stated that the approach to drug addiction treatment in Northern Ireland is “short-sighted” and “unsatisfactory,” and going on to say that the health and care system do not seem able to address the problem of addiction.

Mr. Justice Weatherup made the telling comments as he refused bail to a young heroin addict from Derry. The young drug addict will now go back to prison at a cost of £40,000 per year. The costs of his appearances in court and his time in police custody will have already cost an estimated £65,000 and these costs will likely increase over time.

Clearly Mr. Justice Weatherup considered releasing the young man from custody, however his ultimate reason for refusing bail is as follows, “I can’t grant him bail because I feel because of his addiction and lack of treatment that I think is available, he is liable to revert to his addiction. The safest place for present purposes is that he remains in the limited treatment he is receiving in the prison service.”

What does HSC (the NHS equivalent in Northern Ireland) have to say about their services? In April 2013 I wrote to Mr. Aidan Murray, an assistant director at the Health and Social Care Board in Northern Ireland informing him about and offering Castle Craig’s services. He replied stating, “Northern Ireland currently has a number of NHS specialist in-patient facilities providing detoxification and rehabilitation services. There are also a number of independent sector accommodation based treatment and rehabilitation services available locally  which are used as required…our future intention is to continue to source…accommodation based services locally…”.

Clearly HSC are perfectly satisfied with the services that they have on offer and are closed to the idea of referring patients out of area. In spite of this I am not aware of any high quality rehabilitation centres in Northern Ireland with integrated medical and therapeutic treatment. I have also long been aware that access to residential treatment services is often being denied to those who request and need it. The comments by Mr. Justice Weatherup have confirmed that HSC need to look for additional services outside their own region, or to develop their own local services considerably and quickly.


Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked | August 6, 2013