More community-based detox addiction services are needed to combat Northern Ireland’s “dismal” record on alcohol deaths, psychiatrists have said.
The toll reached a record high in 2019 of 336.
The figure is more than a third higher than ten years ago and an increase of 18% since 2018. The rate is also considerably higher in deprived areas.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland called for more access to services to free up hospital beds.
Dr Donna Mullen, chair of the addictions faculty at the college, said: “Northern Ireland has had a long-standing problem with alcohol addiction, and we suspect the problem will only get worse due to lockdown and Covid-19.
“The truth is alcohol addiction, whether living through a pandemic or not, shatters the lives of individuals and their families, but treatment is available and can be effective.
“We know that alcohol addiction is sometimes overlooked by a focus on drug addiction when addictions services are planned.
“Community-based withdrawal programmes and services have been proven to work, but not everyone has access to them. This needs to change.
“We need to focus on getting those who are addicted to alcohol, better, and reduce the alarming rise in deaths and self-harm.”
The college said bed numbers have been reduced during the pandemic and not every health trust had access to community-based detoxes.
These are recommended by clinical experts for people who drink more than 15 units of alcohol a day and are organised by a community addiction service and the person’s GP.
They can be used instead of an admission to hospital – reducing the demand on inpatient beds and waiting times – which is currently more than two months due to the pandemic.
Alcohol deaths cost the public purse about £900 million annually, the college added.
It is calling for a regional plan for community-based assisted withdrawal services, which would give greater access to all.
The Western Trust in Derry is the only one which currently offers community-detox services. It receives 400 inquiries across the region per year.
Jane (not her real name) who is from Derry and in her 40s, contacted her GP in December 2020, when she was struggling to come to terms with her brother’s death.
Jane was referred to her local community detox team, with treatment taking place in her own home by a designated mental health nurse from the detox centre.
Jane said: “I was abusing alcohol as a means of getting to sleep every night and was drinking around half a bottle of vodka every night and feeling incredibly guilty about it.
“I realised I was struggling and decided on my own to seek help for it. Honestly, the treatment and care were fantastic in helping me overcome my addiction.
“I had a nurse come out to the house every morning and the treatment was one on one. The detox ran for less than a week and I’m still doing really well.
“The service offers counselling after your detox, which I think is a really essential part of the whole experience. I’m also attending regular zoom chats every Friday with other patients.
“Without a doubt, I don’t know where I’d be if it hadn’t been for the community detox team in Derry. It’s a great service, and one that should most definitely be rolled out across Northern Ireland.”
— to www.irishnews.com