‘Art and nature can help to erase the stigma associated with addiction,’ says founder of treatment centre

A ‘Wizard of Oz’ mural in the greenhouse which the members created. Photo: Kim O’Leary.

The founder of an addiction and mental health treatment centre in Athy, Co Kildare, has said that artwork and a return to nature can help people in their battle against addiction and mental health issues. TheCity.ie’s Kim O’Leary speaks to Declan Nolan, who has seen patients thrive by making art works and gardening, while also helping to bring local communities together.

Declan Nolan is the founder of Discover Oneself (D1-S) in Athy, set up in the town three years ago. Drug use, he says, is “becoming less hidden and more obvious” there and nationwide as well.

“It has been bad for years in Athy and people are talking about it now because it’s becoming less hidden and more obvious, it can affect the whole community. People talking about it now also allows those who have struggled with addiction to tell their story. “

“It’s happening all around Ireland. People are afraid to talk about drugs and other addictions so we have to keep fighting to erase the stigma surrounding addiction and mental health,” explained Declan.

The current national drug strategy, ‘Reducing harm, supporting recovery: a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025’, was launched in July 2017 and its main aim is to minimise the harms caused by the use and misuse of substances, and to promote rehabilitation and recovery by supporting the development of a range of treatment, rehabilitation and recovery services using the four-tier model.

The strategy also recognises the need for timely access to appropriate services for the client. The integrated care pathways model forms the conceptual basis for the National Drug Rehabilitation Framework.

The Health Service Executive (HSE), which manages Ireland’s public health sector, is responsible for the provision of all publicly funded drug treatment. The management of all drug treatment services falls under the remit of the Primary Care Division, which oversees a number of national care groups. Drug treatment is provided through a network of HSE services (public), but also non-statutory/voluntary agencies, many of which are funded by the HSE. Some private organisations also provide treatment.

Most drug treatment is provided through publicly funded outpatient services. These include 314 specialised drug treatment centres, 82 low-threshold agencies and 356 specialised general practitioners, which provide opioid substitution treatment (OST) in the community.

The latest figures from the Health Research Board (HRB) show that, while cocaine is the third most common problem drug reported to the National Drug Treatment Reporting System, its use has risen every year without fail.


The data shows that while problem cocaine use fell slightly between 2011 and 2013, it has risen every year since. The largest increase is from 12.3% in 2016 to 16.8% in 2017 — an increase of 32%.

A total of 1,500 cases were treated for cocaine use in 2017, almost double the number of cases in 2011 (770 cases). The number of new cases treated has risen from 396 in 2011 to 748 in 2017.

The HRB data shows that men account for four in every five cases reporting, while the most common additional drugs reported among cocaine cases were alcohol (58%), cannabis (48%), and benzodiazepines (25%).

A total of 63,303 cases presented for treatment for problem drug use (excluding alcohol) between 2011 and 2017. The number of treated cases increased from 8,361 in 2011 to 9,892 in 2015, and then decreased to 8,922 in 2017.

Declan said that there has been a surge in the use of cannabis in the last year. “Cannabis is a big problem, the situation is worsening year on year and we have seen this in the latest stats as well as the people we are trying to provide help and detox to,” he explained.

HRB chief executive Darrin Morrissey said the latest figures show drug use continues to seriously impact people right across Irish society.

“This is evident in the latest drug treatment data, as well as the HRB’s recent drug-related deaths and alcohol treatment reports,” he said.

“Over the recent period of economic recovery, drug treatment trends are changing and the data we analyse from the HRB information systems helps to inform health services provision and the health policy responses to problem drug use in Ireland,” he added.

Photo: Kim O’Leary

Meanwhile, D1-S Athy also encourages the individuals who receive treatment at their clinic to also participate in art classes and gardening in the greenhouses at the facility, with the aim of re-introducing them to the local community.

Photo: Pexels

“The art classes and gardening in the green houses has been positively received, people are really enjoying creating murals and other creative works in our new rooms at the residential treatment centre. We feel that art and nature can help to erase the stigma associated with addiction and mental health because it shows that everyone has a creative side and we’re working hard to encourage people to let their creativity flow,” said Declan.

In terms of the current situation nationwide, Declan said that much more needs to be done to tackle the cannabis crisis in particular. And he is insistent that art and nature can prove a welcome distraction to those recovering from addiction or even to keep vulnerable people away from drugs entirely.

“In rural towns like Athy and even the urban cities like Dublin, drugs are rampant and anyone can become addicted. Also, a lot of people have very full, busy lifestyles that can mean their mental health may suffer so we are seeing people coming in more than ever to talk and get help. This is good because it means things are changing but there’s still a lot more work to do locally in Kildare and nationally as well. The government should really try to support local initiatives and programmes trying to treat addiction and mental health issues, it’s something that the new government coming in should consider,” said Declan.

For more information on D1-S Athy visit www.d1-s.com

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