As people across Ireland come to terms with COVID-19, personnel in drug treatment services are aware that the disease could, potentially, have a deep impact on both the services and service users, particularly in relation to service structures, more focused harm reduction strategies, a strengthening of advocacy, and the need to maintain and update relevant information from government, media and other sources.
Government response to Covid-19
Links to useful pages:
- Symptoms, causes and treatment
- Protect yourself and others
- At-risk groups
- Restricted movements and self-isolation
- Travel and coronavirus
- Hospital service disruptions and restrictions
- Minding your mental health during coronavirus outbreak
- Health service surveillance centre
- Posters and resources
- Translated resources
How services are structured
In general, drug services are structured around one-to-one and group contact, and in most instances it is now impossible to continue these arrangements as before. For now, one-to-one contact can be arranged through telephone and internet.
Medium to long term, these arrangements may need to be refined and updated to best e-health technologies and there would also be a need to re-configure interview/counselling and group rooms for better safety. The DATF will be preparing a plan for such reconfiguring in the next few weeks.
Harm reduction strategies
Because COVID-19 attacks the lungs it poses particular serious threats to infected persons who smoke tobacco and/or cannabis. Similarly, some drugs, particularly opiate and methamphetamines have particular negative effects on respiratory and pulmonary health and thus pose additional threats to infected persons who use these drugs.
These risks suggest the need for more direct harm reduction information, counselling and other strategies for helping drug users to improve and maintain their health.
Many drug users experience homelessness and are regularly exposed to overcrowded physical environments and will thus have difficulty in managing and exercising social distancing, thus increasing their risk of infection. Furthermore, it will be very difficult for them to quarantine if need be, thus reducing their access to clinics, pharmacies and so forth. There is a need for more volunteers and advocacy to support their access to appropriate housing, financial support and other services, to ensure they are linked with voluntary agencies, and to ensure they are not victimized in the current crisis. Some agencies, particularly in the non-governmental sector, have expertise in advocating and supporting homeless and other vulnerable groups.