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September 11, 2015
Ireland: Clinical service to address growing numbers using steroids

The needle exchange at Merchants Quay drop in centre Photograph: The Irish Times

New clinical services will address the growing number of people using steroids to “enhance” their bodies who are presenting to needle-exchange programmes in Dublin.

Recent increases in steroid use accounted for up to 10 per cent of those injecting drugs in 2014.

Research conducted in the area last year, and highlighted in the Merchants QuayIreland Homeless and Drug Services annual report launched on Friday, puts the average age of users at 24 and calls it a “relatively new phenomenon”

“Traditionally you associate steroids with athletes but the research we are pointing to is people who want to look good,” said Mark Kennedy of the Merchant Quay programme.

The service aims to establish clinics two nights a week in the capital within the next few months to advise users about safe use and harm reduction.

In some parts of the UK, needle-exchange programmes, generally associated with heroin use, have been primarily dealing with people injecting steroids.

While they do not carry the same dependency risk, they have the potential for physical and psychological harm.

The Merchants Quay study found from a sample of 89 “Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs” users (Pieds), 50 per cent had never tested for HIV or Hepatitis C; 38.2 per cent reported increased aggression; 31.5 per cent mood changes; and 19.1 per cent anxiety and 18 per cent depression.

Homelessness warning

Generally, heroin use has been on the decline in Ireland in recent years although it remains a significant problem – last year there were 24,266 needle-exchange interventions in Dublin alone.

That represented 3,179 individual users, 527 of whom were new to the service.

Merchants Quay conducted 1,786 safer injecting workshops, an increase of 2 per cent on 2013.

Chief executive Tony Geoghegan warned of “unprecedented levels” of homelessness which are linked with drug use.

“As a matter of urgency I call on the Government to hold fast to their commitments to a just society and as a matter of urgency to put in place the necessary resources to make a real difference in the lives of people caught in the misery of drugs and homelessness,” he said.

Merchants Quay provides a broad range of services in both areas – last year it served nearly 80,000 meals (amounting to nearly 220 a day).

In its drop-in service, it provided 5,623 supportive interventions including referrals to emergency accommodation, social services and medical care.

There were 1,804 nursing interventions, an increase of 10 per cent; 811 counselling sessions (up 3 per cent) and 1,985 GP consultations (an increase of 33 per cent).

It also added psychiatric nursing to its long list of services with research showing that about 81 per cent of homeless people suffer mental health issues.