The Northern Ireland Assembly Public Accounts Committee has published a report, entitled Addiction Services in Northern Ireland, which highlights long-standing problems with addiction services here. Issues covered in the report include a failure to work across government, the length of time it has taken to produce a new substance use strategy and the high use of prescription drugs.
In addition, the report reveals the lack of reliable data on addiction services, a problem that has not been resolved for years after it was originally identified. The Committee was particularly concerned about how the Department of Health could be assured that its services were effective if the available data was not of a high quality.
Chairman of the Committee, William Humphrey MBE MLA said:
We are all too aware that there is a serious substance use problem here in Northern Ireland and this has been known for many years. It is for that reason that we are particularly alarmed it has taken five years to produce a strategy to combat this.
Substance use is a silent pandemic that has been ravaging our community for far too long. It is not just a health issue-it touches all aspects of our society and must be dealt with in a holistic way - across Government.
While we are encouraged that the new strategy emphasises a collaborative, cross sectoral approach, a commitment on paper must be followed up by action and, in particular, sufficient funding to implement this strategy. It is not enough for the Department to implement a strategy; this issue needs to be led by the Executive, with the clear objective of reducing drug and alcohol related deaths.
The Committee was also concerned that successfully implementing the new strategy will require more than the proposed 6 million per year of additional funding, which is not even agreed. Without securing these monies, the Department will be forced to make hard choices about the elements of the strategy that will be funded.
Similarly, the Committee noted that community and voluntary sector (CVS) organisations, which are key partners in delivering addiction services, are often the first ones to find their funding withdrawn to ease the Executive's financial pressures. Not only does this impact on those using CVS services, it also harms some of the most cost-effective intervention programmes.
Chairman Humphrey concluded:
While we welcome the new integrated strategy, we believe that the Department needs to go further in how it approaches substance use. Not only does there need to be a serious and funded joined up approach, there also needs to be more attention paid to making counselling and intensive treatment available to those who would benefit from these approaches.
We look forward to the execution of this new strategy and believe that if it is implemented in full, it will make a significant impact on substance use in our community.