Pubdate: Fri, 25 Aug 2000
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2000 The Irish Times
Contact:  11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2, Ireland
Fax: + 353 1 671 9407
Author: Eithne Donnellan


The death of a 15-year-old girl from a suspected drugs overdose in Dublin 
has led to calls for the immediate setting up of specialist treatment 
services for young people who experiment with drugs.

A source familiar with the dead girl's history expressed the view that she 
was not a drug addict. However, those working on drug projects in the city 
said young people experimenting with drugs were more likely to overdose 
because of their inexperience.

Father Peter McVerry called last night for specialist treatment services 
for young people who use drugs and for changes in the law to facilitate the 
treatment of under-age persons without their parents' consent in certain 

He said the law as it existed presented an obstacle to some very young 
drug-abusers receiving treatment.

"Their parents are required to sign a consent form, but they might not be 
interested in doing so or the child might not want his or her parents to 
know about his or her problem," he said. He said responsible adults other 
than a child's parents should be allowed to sign consent forms in these 

Mr Tony Geoghegan of the Merchants Quay Project, the largest voluntary 
drugs support project in Dublin, complained that most of the drug treatment 
services were geared to the needs of more established drug-users, rather 
than the very young who might be in the early stages of experimenting with 
drugs and therefore more vulnerable to overdosing.

"There is a gap in services for that age group. We need earlier 
intervention programmes and more outreach services which engage young 
drug-users. We have had one or two pilot projects in this area, but in 
general there is a deficit in the services," he said.

He described the death of the 15-year-old girl, who had been in the care of 
the South Western Area Health Board, as tragic.

"A 15-year-old dying like that is dreadful, but I won't be surprised if it 
does turn out to be an overdose. Young people are the most vulnerable to 
overdose because they haven't got much experience of drugs," he said.

The Merchants Quay Project dealt with more than 2,000 drug abusers last 
year, some as young as 15. They saw only the tip of the iceberg, Mr 
Geoghegan said.

He said drug-related deaths were increasing every year in the State, even 
before contaminated heroin claimed 16 lives earlier this year. There were 
86 drug related deaths last year and 72 the year before.

Father McVerry said the problem of heroin abuse in particular was getting 
worse, and the age at which people were beginning to use the drug was 
getting lower. There were two deaths related to heroin overdoses every week 
in the Dublin area, but most went unreported and were "taken for granted".

"What annoys me is there is a waiting time of three to four months to get 
on to methadone treatment programmes, and I don't see any urgency in the 
system in dealing with somebody who presents with a heroin problem," he said.

A spokeswoman for the health boards in the eastern region formerly covered 
by the Eastern Health Board said over 1,000 new treatment places had been 
established this year for those who abused drugs.

"We have a wide range of community-based drug education, prevention, 
outreach, treatment and rehabilitation services for young people," she said.

"An independent evaluation of the drug treatment services in the east 
carried out by an international expert concluded that our drug treatment 
services had developed at a breathtaking rate and were among the most 
innovative in Europe," she added.
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