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Increasing detoxification access for heroin users Information

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Increasing detoxification access for heroin users

In order to increase detoxification access for heroin users, and minimise frequent relapse typical to heroin dependent users, it is important to consult and recognise the views of those attempting to access a heroin detox.

Researchers conducted a study which aimed to develop a greater understanding of heroin users’ experiences of seeking detoxification in South East Ireland. They also wanted to contribute evidence-based knowledge towards determining the best ways of meeting the needs of heroin users who require access to detoxification services.

Some of the research participants were abstinent from all drug use, some were participating in a methadone maintenance programme, some had never accessed formal drug treatment, others were currently participating in formal drug treatment (including heroin detox, treatment in an addiction clinic, and drug counselling), whilst a further sample of research participants had been unable to access formal treatment or refused formal treatment themselves.

The research found that being drug-free is most often a pre-requisite for accessing a residential drug rehabilitation service in Ireland. As such, the heroin users in the study who were unable to complete a self-detoxification required immediate access to a detoxification service in order to complete withdrawal from heroin safely. They further needed to pursue their goal of participating in residential rehabilitation treatment. This may explain why the majority of service users currently participating in a methadone maintenance programme expressed that they did not regard methadone maintenance as ‘detoxification’, but in some cases referred to their participation within methadone maintenance as a consequence of non-available detoxification services appropriate to their needs.

Many of the heroin users within the study reported that they did not seek detoxification as they were ‘knowledge poor’ when they were initially motivated to cease heroin use. Such participants described that they were not aware of the significant effects of heroin dependence, the challenges that withdrawal would present them, or indeed the treatment options that were available to them at the time.

However, factors which contributed positively to the process of detoxification-seeking included informal contact with others (drug users, family members) and/or a therapeutic relationship (drugs counsellor, GP). Such informal and therapeutic contacts helped navigate the journey of seeking detoxification for the individual seeking heroin detox. The study shows that very often, when seeking detoxification, individual heroin users are in a vulnerable position physically, emotionally and mentally, and as such are heavily reliant on the support of others to navigate the unclear pathway to detoxification.

This study has implications for drug service delivery in Ireland. The development of further support services, with service user involvement emerges as the way forward to meet the psycho-social and health needs of opiate users who are trying to stop their use of heroin. In addition, for some heroin users in-patient detoxification is vital in order to reduce the risk of relapse and in this context increased access to in-patient heroin detox is necessary.


McDonnell, A. & Van Hout, M.C. (2010). Maze and minefield: a grounded theory of opiate self-detoxification in rural Ireland. Drugs and Alcohol Today, 10 (2).

Article published on 06/12/2020 by PCUG Addiction Treatment