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Hike in drug-using psychiatric patients
Irish Examiner 24/08/2007

By Cormac O'Keeffe

THERE has been a 25% rise in the number of people admitted to psychiatric hospitals with drug disorders, new figures show.

The number of such admissions rose from 617 in 2003 to 777 in 2005 (the last available year) according to official statistics.

The Irish Examiner reported on Wednesday that half of the people admitted to a regional psychiatric hospital for the first time are regular drug users. The clinical director of the Donegal Mental Health Service, Dr Tony Sharkey, said he had seen an alarming rise in the number of young people suffering from psychotic illness brought on by problem drug use. He said young people were typically consuming several drugs, including cannabis, alcohol and cocaine.

Dr Sharkey claimed 10% of young people who use drugs in their teens would become psychotic and a significant number would suffer from depression.

He was responding to research published in Britain that showed cannabis could more than double the risk of psychotic illnesses.

Records compiled by the National Psychiatric In-Patient Reporting System show the number of people admitted to psychiatric hospitals for the first time with a drug disorder jumped by almost 30% between 2003 and 2005, from 239 to 308. The number of people admitted for drug disorders rose from 617 to 777.

Almost half of those admitted were discharged within a week, and 80% within four weeks.

However, the figures show drug disorders account for a small percentage of all admissions — 4% of all cases, and 5% of new cases, in 2005 (3% and 4% respectively in 2003). Experts believe the small percentage may be because many of the larger diagnosis categories — such as depressive disorders and schizophrenia — are either not diagnosed as resulting from drugs, or not recorded as such.

Dr Des Corrigan, chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs said the official figures did not show the large number of drug-related psychiatric cases reported by Dr Sharkey. “To get a handle on the exact extent of the problem is difficult. Better quality data is needed.”

However, he said he wasn't surprised with Dr Sharkey's experience.

He said this was more so given the combined use of cannabis with alcohol and cocaine.

He said there may be a link with possible increased use of herbal cannabis, which is up to five times stronger than cannabis resin, the traditional form of cannabis used.

The availability of herbal cannabis is reflected in seizures of the drug in the past fortnight, including 50kg in Donegal on Monday, 40kg in Cork last Friday and more than a tonne at Dublin Port on August 8.