DRINK and drug abuse is costing the health service at least €90m a year, as doctors battle to save people's lives because of over-indulgence. And new figures show that tens of thousands of heavy drinkers and drug abusers have been admitted to hospital after taking potentially lethal quantities of drugs, with a dramatic rise in the number of people hospitalised after taking cocaine.
Data from the 62 public hospitals shows that 919 people were in such a serious medical condition after taking cocaine between 2001 and 2005 that doctors were forced to admit them. The figures, which are the most recent available and come from the Economic and Social Research Institute, show a huge rise with the numbers quadrupling from 67 in 2001 to 275 in 2004.
Late last year the Irish Independent revealed that the number of people dying as a direct result of taking drugs had rocketed between 2000-2006, with 630 people dying in that period compared with 542 in the previous 20 years. They show that the numbers being hospitalised with drug abuse being the primary reason for treatment, or where ingestion of a controlled substance required medical attention, has risen since 2001.
That year, the total number of people treated for health problems involving opioids (heroin, methadone), cannabis, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy and other drugs was 1,959. In 2004, the number stood at 2,704. The total number treated between 2001-2005 was 11,713.
Alcohol is by far the biggest drain on the health services finances, with over 74,000 people admitted to hospital between 2001-2005. The Health Research Board estimates that these people took up the equivalent of 117,000 bed nights. The HSE said the cost of occupying a hospital bed for one night, and only receiving basic medical treatment, is €770. This means the bill to keep people with alcohol problems in hospital is running at over €90m a year.
"If the admissions were less, there would be less pressure on accident and emergency departments," Professor Joe Barry from Trinity College Dublin said last night.
Despite the popularity of cocaine, heroin is still the main killer with the number of deaths far outstripping the horrors of the 1980s when the drug held a vice-like grip on the capital. Almost 630 people have died from drugs in the six years since 2000, compared with 542 in the previous 20 years.
Dermot Kavanagh of Merchant's Quay Ireland, a voluntary organisation which provides services to homeless people and to drug users, said the figures for people requiring medical attention was higher as residential and other treatment services were not included in the figures.
"We have seen an increased number of people with cocaine issues, and a lot we're seeing would be poorer but not exclusively so," he said.
"The people who run into drug problems are often the most disadvantaged in society. If people are treated, it's very cost effective. Studies show that for every €1 spent on drug treatment, €4 is saved."
Source: Paul Melia, Irish Independent, 31/03/08