Thursday, 18 February 2021
Covid-19 (Drug and Alcohol Services, and Homelessness): Statements
James O'Connor (Cork East, Fianna Fail)
I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to discuss access to drug and alcohol treatment services during the Covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 poses a major threat for people with drug and alcohol addiction and, in response, drug and alcohol services have adapted with new ways of working to continue to support people affected by substance misuse during the pandemic. Their work should be commended.
A key priority for the Government during Covid-19 is to protect, safeguard and support health, social care and other essential services. The safe resumption of community-based drug and alcohol services is a key component of this approach. Drug and alcohol treatment services are playing a vital role throughout the country in reducing harmful substance misuse and supporting rehabilitation and recovery. Covid-19 is a stressful time for people right across the country, leading to a rise in the level of alcohol consumption. According to the latest Drinkaware report published during the summer, one person in four is drinking more since Covid-19 came to Ireland. It is clear alcohol can be used as a mechanism to help people relax and unwind, but we must recognise the changing pattern in alcohol consumption and habits the pandemic has brought about. We must ensure the people who feel they need help in this period to tackle a potential alcohol addiction can get access to the supports they require.
Drug and alcohol treatment services have had to adapt to new ways of working to continue to support people affected by substance misuse during the current pandemic. I welcome the provision of €480,000 in once-off funding to support the restoration of drug and alcohol services. I sincerely ask that the Government continues to give whatever financial assistance is required to ensure these services can continue to operate efficiently.
It is important that we start a national conversation around alcohol use. The Drinkaware report highlights that 25% of people also saw a decline in alcohol consumption, highlighting the changing nature of drinking patterns, which is quite interesting. Understandably, much of the change in drinking patterns has been due to extended periods of reduced contact and isolation, and we must therefore monitor these patterns of behaviour as we emerge from the pandemic to ensure the right form of services are available. Addiction may be caused by many factors, and we should not stigmatise people who suffer from addiction. It is an illness and we must treat it as such.
Covid-19 has had many profound effects on people throughout the country and the relationship with addiction is one of them. We must ensure we have the necessary support in place to meet such challenges.