Merchants Quay Drugs and Homeless Project gives the lie to the “Law and Order” brigade.

Those who generate orgies of publicity on the back of drug addiction and
its consequences should spend a week on work experience at Merchant’s Quay
Centre beside the Adam and Eve’s Church (1834) and monastery. This is an
example of the positive impact that the Catholic Church has on the life of
the city. The Franciscan Friars run that institution. I have admired Tony
Geoghegan, the MQI director for years. He had John Lonergan – exGovernor of
Mountjoy launch the 2009 annual review and I set out the report in the
Irish Examiner below.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

‘Red light’ warning over heroin spread

By Cormac O’Keeffe

Saturday, September 25, 2010

RED warning lights should be attached to a report highlighting the spread
of heroin across the country, former prison governor John Lonergan has said.

The ex-Mountjoy chief said the country was “sleep walking” into a human
catastrophe by failing to intervene in the “scourge”.

Mr Lonergan made the comments as he launched the 2009 annual review by
Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI), which works with drug users, homeless people
and prisoners.

The report said it dealt with more than 9,000 people in 2009, with a 9%
hike in drug users availing of its services. MQI director Tony Geoghegan
said the “greatest rise” in problem drug use was outside Dublin.

He said heroin use had taken off in large urban areas across the country
and that MQI now operated needle exchange services in four Midland
counties, dealing with more than 200 people a year.

Launching the review, Mr Longeran said: “There should be red lights on top
of this report. It’s indicating that heroin is no longer confined to Dublin
and is spreading across the country. For me that is certainly a red light.
I know what will happen as a consequence.”

The report said “there is now a growing and significant problem” with
heroin and cocaine and other drugs in towns such as Athlone, Portlaoise,
Birr and Longford.

“Our concern is where the biggest increase is where the least services are

He said such was the lack of methadone treatment services in parts of the
country – up to two years in some places – it was quicker to get help in
prison, where services have expanded.

He questioned why the controversial announcement by the Government a year
ago of an Elton John charity fund for needle-exchanges services across the
country had not yet materialised, apart from one service in Limerick.

Mr Lonergan said: “In many areas the services are almost non-existent.
There’s also an ambivalence, and sometime even stronger, a total opposition
to acknowledging there is a drug problem and providing the services.

“If you don’t have the services you are going to have an expansion. It’s a
no-win situation, it’s a self-inflicted wound. Part of struggle is to
convince communities they have a central role and responsibility to respond
to drug addiction in their own community.”

He said there was “danger on the horizon” and the country was “sleep
walking” into a national disaster.

Mr Geoghegan said the homelessness problem was getting worse with a 17%
increase in demand for its services in the first six months of this year,
compared to the same period last year.

He said they provided 45,000 meals last year, but added they had already
hit that figure this year.

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Saturday,
September 25, 2010

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