Press Release

Cowen announces publicaton of report on methadone treatment services

Mr Brian Cowen, T.D., Minister for Health and Children announced today, (19 January, 1998) the publication of the report of the Methadone Treatment Services Review Group.

The Methadone Treatment Services Review Group was set up by the Department of Health and Children in 1997 to assess the use of methadone in the treatment of heroin dependence. Its Report examines the protocols for good practice in the prescribing and dispensing of methadone and points to appropriate controls which might be put in place. It also sets out the basis on which methadone treatment should continue to be developed and recommends a concise framework for the future operation of the Scheme. The Report is being circulated nation-wide to every general practitioner and pharmacist.

The Review Group included representation from the Eastern Health Board, the Irish College of General Practitioners and the Pharmaceutical Society. A committee, comprised of representatives from the above bodies and the Department of Health and Children has also been established with responsibility for implementing the recommendations contained in the Report. The Committee’s main objective will be to ensure that all general practitioners and pharmacists providing methadone treatment, do so in accordance with the arrangements in the Report.

The Minister is confident that the implementation of the recommendations in the Methadone Review Group’s Report will result in strict control on the prescribing of methadone in the treatment of opiate misuse. “I welcome the fact that GPs and pharmacists, involved in prescribing methadone, will get the relevant training and support. This, I hope will eliminate the problems which have been encountered in the past in relation to methadone, as it plays a valid and important role in the treatment of opiate misuse”, he said.

The Report’s recommendations also include the provision for supervised administration of methadone cases where a general practitioner feels the need for this. During 1997, a number of Eastern Health Board treatment centres commenced operating seven days per week to prevent the necessity for ‘takeaways’ at weekends and thereby eliminating the possibility of leakage of methadone onto the illicit market.

Throughout 1997, the Eastern Health Board also undertook a major expansion of its services in order to provide treatment and care to all drug misusers in the need of this treatment. In the course of the year approximately 900 new cases were treated in Eastern Health Board facilities. This expansion will continue in 1998, with an emphasis on development of rehabilitation services for recovering drug users, additional support for voluntary agencies working with drug users, and the establishment of further treatment facilities where the need for these facilities has been identified.

In addition, the Board is investing in drug education, counselling and outreach support workers in the community, in the greater Dublin Area, in order to prevent people turning to drug misuse in the first instance and to provide help and support to young people and their families.