Charity welcomes new NI drugs and alcohol strategy

A CHARITY that helps Tyrone people overcome addiction has welcomed the ‘ten year substance use strategy’ announced by the North’s Health Minister, Robin Swann.

ASCERT, who provide drug and alcohol intervention services across Tyrone from their office in Omagh, said they “welcome that the new
strategy recognises that more must be done to close the gaps across drug and alcohol and mental health services”.

Chief executive at ASCERT, Gary McMichael, said, “We are seeing more and more people with co-existing mental health and addiction issues that have difficulty getting the support they need within the health care system.


“The fact that we now have both a ten-year substance strategy and ten-year mental health strategy produced this year, is an opportunity to bring efforts together to address these closely interlinked issues in a more coordinated approach.”

Mr McMichael added, “Throughout the pandemic we have seen an increased demand for support and in fact this has been highest in the Western Trust area.”

However, drawing a positive from the last 18 months, the charity’s chief executive said the increase in engagement with services in Tyrone had outstripped the surge in demand.

“During the pandemic, more people from rural areas have been engaging remotely.

“Our face-to-face support is returning soon, but we will be continuing to offer remote sessions.”

Mr McMichael concluded by reiterating that drug and alcohol abuse cannot be understood in isolation from mental health.

He said, “Around 80 per-cent of the people coming to us are experiencing mental health issues, particularly anxiety, as well as their problems with alcohol or drug use.


“We also are seeing that suicidal ideation is an increasing concern and there are a lot of issues that relate to historical troubles related trauma. So, when you add the additional challenges from the pandemic onto these things, people are under a lot of stress.”

Striking a similar note, Health Minister Robin Swann acknowledged
the complex factors that contribute to “to alcohol and drug use; poverty and deprivation; homelessness; employment and economic development; mental health and trauma;
paramilitarism, community relations and justice; educational attainment, inequalities; and the legacy of the past”.

Mr Swann added, “Tackling
these societal issues will require the whole Executive to operate collectively.”

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