Northern Ireland

Naloxone: Mother says mental health teams need to 'wake up'

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Media captionA mother of a man addicted to heroin and other drugs says she lives in worry for him

A mother whose son is addicted to heroin and prescription drugs has said she fears he will die if he is not given the help he needs.

"When I get up in the morning, my first thought is: 'Is he alive?'," she told BBC News NI.

"For the last few weeks I've had to send him to another member of my family so I can have some respite.

"If my son hadn't been in their home, I'd have been burying him."

The mother explained that after a family trauma her son began taking prescription drugs, eventually leading on to cocaine and heroin.

"He started taking blow and blues and then moved on to coke, heroin, and then Xanax. He's basically tried everything. When he's out that door I am living in fear - waiting for someone to ring me and tell me he's dead."


Since December 2018, her son has been administered with the drug Naloxone 10 times.

It temporarily reverses the effects of an overdose, allowing more time for emergency treatment.

"This is his lowest point - he's been resuscitated 10 times - three times in one week. He's using anything he can get his hands on. He's a broken wee boy."

Naloxone was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2012 and is funded by the Public Health Agency (PHA) and Health and Social Care Board (HSCB).

Figures from the Department of Health (DoH) show that between April 2017 and March 2018, Naloxone was supplied 807 times through the 'Take Home Naloxone' programme.

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Image caption Naloxone temporarily reverses the effects of an overdose

The programme was part of the DoH's strategy to reduce the harm related to substance misuse.

The drug is made available to anyone who comes into contact with users - homeless organisations, pharmacists and hostel staff, as well as the friends and family members of addicts. And it does save lives.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service provided figures to show that since 2016, Naloxone was administered 1,845 times.

Each year, it steadily increases. In 2016, it was administered 446 times, in 2017 it was administered 629 times and last year, 770 times.

'Wake up'

The mother said she is waiting for a date for son's rehabilitation.

"I'll do everything with every breath of my body to try and get him back his life. I just wish the mental health teams would wake up. Are they going to wait until another life is lost?

"There has to be something done - there has to be somewhere for these kids to go. Waiting times are crucial. I fear the worst. I feel that I'm going to be burying my son. He's so lost."

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Image caption The woman's son initially became addicted to prescription drugs

North Belfast councillor Paul McCusker said he hears "too often" from families whose loved ones are suffering from an addiction and find it difficult to source immediate support.

"The need for a crisis intervention service and a programme that will help those suffering from an addiction at the time of need is critical," he said.

"Families are having to fill the void without the adequate training or support until the help is available, which is unacceptable."

A Department of Health spokesperson said over the past two years there had been a "growing pressure" on a range of alcohol and drug-related services, leading to the development of "unacceptable waiting lists" for some key services across Northern Ireland, but particularly in Belfast.

'Significant improvement in waiting times'

It said this has been the focus of "significant action and investment" by the Department of Health, the HSCB and the Belfast Trust.

As a result, it said, average waiting times for Substitution Therapy in the Belfast Trust have fallen from 41 weeks in July 2017 to 15 weeks in December 2018.

"The trust will continue to prioritise this service and seek to address the waiting list. Belfast Trust has also seen significant improvement in waiting times to access the Community Addiction Team - in December 2018, 69% of individuals referred were seen in 0-3 weeks from initial contact and 28% individuals seen in 3-6 weeks from initial contact.

"There is also an ongoing review of Health and Social Care (HSC) community addiction services to address the increasing complexity of problems being experienced by individuals misusing alcohol and drugs; an increased supply/availability of new substances ; changes in drug using trends; and increased levels of referrals to treatment services."

It said a key challenge in tackling waiting times is the ability to recruit suitably trained specialist staff and to help address this the HSC was providing additional funding and training for GP practices to free up the trust to deal with more complex cases.

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