IRELAND IS in the grip of “a really devastating drug epidemic” and people need to be frightened into tackling the issue, a leading emergency medicine consultant said yesterday.
Dr Chris Luke, emergency medicine consultant at the Cork University and Mercy University hospitals, said the drug problem was “all over the country” but people did not seem to realise how big the problem was.
He said the extent of the epidemic was highlighted at the Slane concert last week when drug-taking reached a tipping point and “vast amounts” of drugs were being openly consumed.
A Garda friend who was off-duty at the concert told him she had never before seen cocaine being openly consumed at such a rate.
The aggression, brawls and “utter savagery” that ensued bore all the hallmarks of cocaine use, he said. “We are not sufficiently frightened in my view. I do think it’s time that people were appropriately afraid and fearful of drugs.”
In his own work, he saw two drug-related deaths in one week recently at the Mercy hospital, as well as two or three near deaths.
“And by now we are starting to see a heroin-related case really every day and I’m talking about the full panoply of heroin-related problems from sudden death due to overdose right through to abscesses from injecting, hepatitis end-stage, anorexic addicts dying in their early 20s,” he said.
The incidence of heroin overdoses in Cork was now reaching the same level as that which he witnessed when working in inner city Dublin and some UK cities in the 1980s, Dr Luke said.
People living in quiet suburban areas around the State are seeing the effects of the drug problem when knives are yielded by drug addicts in supermarkets and people are walking around “off their heads” after consuming a cocktail of drugs and alcohol, according to Dr Luke.
He said the Government’s immediate and swift reaction to swine flu should be compared to its failure to realise the extent of the drugs problem and tackle it.
Dr Luke said front-line emergency services such as paramedics, GPs and gardaí should have an antidote for heroin as a standard part of their resources.
“The antidote, which is called Narcan or Naloxone, reverses the effect of heroin on the brain receptors which causes the victim to stop breathing.
“Heroin causes respiratory arrest as opposed to cardiac arrest and the antidote needs to be administered immediately, within three to four minutes, to reverse that,” he said.
“Narcan is a heroin antagonist, it’s been around for years and it’s not very expensive. The subject needs to get it quickly – it’s injected into the muscle and it’s vital that ambulance and front-line doctors, such as GPs, and gardaí, be provided with it as a routine stock in the sadly worsening heroin situation.”
He said the antidotes were already being carried by advanced paramedics. “But it’s something that should be stocked in all prisons, all garda stations and certain GP surgeries.”
His comments regarding the massive surge in heroin use in the Cork region have been echoed by assistant state pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster.
“When I started out 20 years ago, ecstasy was the drug of choice, then it became cocaine in the more affluent times but now it’s heroin,” she said.
She said she had noticed an increase in the problem not just in Cork city but also in Kerry.
Source - http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/health/2009/0630/1224249778332.html
ALISON HEALY and BARRY ROCHE Irish Times.com