HSE Plans closure of Ireland's only drug treatment centre for youth
Updated: Oct 6
Ireland continues to have one of the highest drug mortality rates in Europe
Cara Lodge, located in Enniskeane, West Cork, is Ireland's only dedicated drug addiction treatment facility for young people. On September 9th last month, operational staff at the lodge were informed that it would close with immediate effect this October with twenty-five jobs to be eliminated. Cara Lodge was run by the Matt Talbot Adolescent Service (MTAS), a charity set up in Cork city over twenty years ago. The Cork-based MTAS charity treats over two hundred teenagers and young adults every year for addiction and related problems. The service includes daycare and educational facilities in Cork city as well as Cara Lodge.
MTAS is largely funded by the HSE which has decided on the closure of Cara Lodge. In the joint statement from the HSE and MTAS, it is stated that there was a significant reduction in referrals from the HSE/Cork Kerry Community healthcare to MTAS residential services at both Aiseiri Aislinn and Cara Lodge in the last five years. In fact, the HSE stated that referrals from CKCH to both facilities decreased by over 50% between 2015 and 2019.
Dr Sharon Lambert, a lecturer in applied psychology in UCC and a former employee of MTAS stated that "It is absolutely the right course of action for a cohort of the most vulnerable young people who use alcohol and drugs at a problematic level and according to the ECDDA (European Centre for Drug and Drug Addiction) the needs within this cohort are increasing."
In Cork on September 14th last, staff at the MTAS Cork addiction treatment facility called for the publication of the HSE investigation into the MTAS organization. A delegation of staff from Cara Lodge met with local Independent TD Michael Collins to voice their anger at how they had been treated and the manner in which the facility has operated recently. “The staff were given false hope that a new model of service would be provided from there but then they were just told during the week that it would close. "A report into the centre was done and I and the staff want to know why that hasn’t been published. They can’t turn around now and say that people today aren’t having the same problems.” Mr Collins said.
In the aforementioned joint statement issued by the HSE and the MTAS, both organisations asserted that referrals to the centre had “decreased by over 50% between 2015 and 2019. ... Any reduction in the referrals of children to residential services is to be welcomed,” the statement said. However, this is contradicted by Michael Clifford who, writing in the Irish Examiner, states that the fall-off in referrals had nothing to do with demand but was a result of reluctance to refer to MTAS due to controversies around the charity. With reference to the HSE/MTAS statement it implied that the demand for residential services for teenagers and young people was steadily falling. Clifford comments that it was difficult to accept that such improvements have been experienced at a time when substance use among teenagers is a growing problem. Clifford states that the HSE-MTAS statement asserted that partnership between the two organisations: "...including MTAS non-residential services, can be the cornerstone of responding to the particular challenges we face in the coming years for adolescents. This suggests a move away from residential treatment is the best way forward. Not so, according to those who work in the area."
An investigation undertaken by the HSE into these and other aspects of the running of the charity was due to be published last November but will not now be published.
On September 9th, a joint statement from MTAS and the HSE stated that the demand for “residential adolescent addiction services in the region has reduced and it is now necessary to realign services so that we can meet the needs of as many young people as possible,” also that the MTAS organization would move from residential to day services. How, is unexplained, since one of their major operational centres is to be shut immediately. The HSE's planned closure of this facility is similar to this organisation's refusal to stop the closure of Mount Cara nursing home, also based near Cork city. Some local TD's are seeking publication of the HSE report and a meeting with the health minister to explain the September decision.
With respect to Ireland's drug problem, in 2017, the European Drug Report 2017, which includes Irish data sourced from 2015, shows that Ireland continues to have one of the highest drug mortality rates in Europe, with 71 fatalities per million people, the fourth highest in Europe, the average is 21 deaths, and, along with the Czech Republic., has the highest rate of recent (last year) use of new psychoactive substances by young adults (15-34) at 1.6%. Also, Ireland has the second - highest rate of recent use of ecstasy (MDMA) at 4.4%, compared to an average of 1.8%; Ireland also has the fourth- highest rate of recent cocaine use at 2.9%, compared to a European average of 1.9%.
The HSE’s response to this crisis appears to be the prompt abandonment of the Irish Health Service for any responsibility for long-term care for young people with drug addiction problems.