THE HSE has been warned by a Southside campaigner that scores of recovering drug addicts will be driven back to heroin if it proceeds with plans to close a local methadone treatment clinic.
Late last year the HSE announced that the Aisling methadone maintenance clinic, located on the site of Cherry Orchard Hospital, would close at the end of this month.
Approximately 270 recovering addicts currently use the Aisling Clinic, which is the largest of its kind in the country.
Until recently the HSE said it intended to transfer those attending the clinic to two other treatment services, in Clondalkin and Inchicore, before the end of March.
However, late last week a HSE spokesperson said that it had instead decided to investigate the possibility of sourcing alternative accommodation for existing clients at the Aisling Clinic.
This would involve treating some patients at two new primary care units in Ballyfermot and Inchicore.
“However, these premises will not accommodate all the patients attending Aisling,” the spokesperson said. “The HSE will have to source another premises in which to provide services for the remainder.
“The HSE is exploring a number of options to identify appropriate locations for treatment for each individual. This will include looking at utilising some premises on the campus of Cherry Orchard (Hospital) and appropriately linking suitable patients with community GPs, which is addiction service policy.”
Henry Harding, who is a community representative on the Ballyfermot Local Drugs Task Force, has urged the HSE to retain the methadone treatment service in Cherry Orchard.
Mr Harding believes that the centre could be accommodated in two empty buildings at Cherry Orchard Hospital.
He fears that scores of addicts could relapse and revert to injecting heroin if they are deprived of the wide range of holistic services that are currently provided at the Aisling Clinic.
“A lot of people think the Aisling Clinic only gives out methadone,” he said. “But it has counsellors, it has doctors and it has a dressing clinic. If you are feeling depressed and you are on methadone and feel you are going to do something, you can go in there and talk to someone up until 7pm every day.
“By closing the clinic you will inevitably drive these addicts back to drugs. If they don’t have the service in their own community they will get depressed and whether they are on methadone or not they will still use.”
He noted that the HSE had suggested that some of the Aisling Clinic’s existing clients could be treated by local GPs.
However, he does not believe that local doctors have the capacity to adequately and effectively cater for the diverse needs of recovering heroin addicts.
“We had a public meeting on the issue recently and some of the addicts said they were not ready to go to doctors,” Mr Harding said. “They want to stay within the service that they have.
“By closing the clinic and sending people to Clondalkin and Inchicore you are driving people out of the community. These people have nowhere else to go.”
A spokesperson for the HSE said it was committed to ensuring that services for the Aisling Clinic’s patients continue and that they receive the appropriate care in the location best suited to their needs.
“There will be no disruption to treatment received by patients as a result of these plans and subsequent changes,” the spokesperson added.