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The Health Issues


What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an infection of the liver. There are 6 different types of Hepatitis. We will focus on two: Hepatitis B (Hep B) and Hepatitis C (Hep C).

One important difference between both of these viruses is that there is a vaccine for Hep B, but not for Hep C. The spread of Hep B can be prevented if people are vaccinated against it. Most people with Hep B will completely recover with proper diet and rest.

All drug users who are in treatment for their addiction will be given the Hep B vaccination.

About 20% of people with Hep C will clear the virus from their bodies spontaneously and treatment may be effective in the remaining 80% of people. The success of treatment depends on:

  • The person’s general health and if they are eating properly, getting enough sleep etc.
  • Drug users need to be stable (i.e. not injecting drugs) for at least one year before they can avail of treatment for Hep C.
  • The abuse of alcohol and certain medications can limit effectiveness.

What can a family member do for someone with Hepatitis?

  • You have already started by reading this – find out as much as you can about Hepatitis, then you will be able to discuss it if they wish to do so.The liver does not like stress, resentment or built-up anger. Therefore try to encourage people to talk about how they are feeling, in a supportive way. Also encourage people to find ways of relaxing, either through complementary therapies or gentle exercise. Resting, without sleeping during the day, even if only for ten minutes helps many people.
  • There are a variety of sources of information on Hepatitis including the resource pack available to download under publications or the website www.hepinfo.ie


What is HIV and what is AIDS? 
HIV stands for Human Immune-Deficiency Virus. HIV may lead to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). The HIV virus if left untreated will damage the body’s immune system so that it cannot fight off infections and illnesses such as pneumonia, skin cancer and fungal infections. AIDS can develop only in the body of someone who has been infected with the HIV virus.

How does someone get infected with HIV? 
The HIV virus can be transmitted through the exchange of body fluids. This includes semen, vaginal secretions and blood. The following are some of the ways that HIV is transmitted:

  • Unprotected sexual contact with someone who has the virus
  • Sharing injecting equipment with someone who has the virus
  • From mother to baby during childbirth (if mother has the virus).
  • Blood transfusions from an infected person (Ireland’s Blood Transfusion Board screens for HIV, but some developing countries do not have adequate screening procedures).
  • Tattoos and piercing in an establishment that does not have the proper sterilising equipment.

Some points to remember:

  • No one has been cured of AIDS.
  • The use of any drug whether it is heroin, ecstasy, cannabis or alcohol, may reduce your ability to make "safe" decisions.
  • Condoms reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk of infection.
  • The contraceptive pill offers no protection against infection.

There are a variety of sources of information on HIV/AIDS including the resource pack available to download under publications on the websitewww.dublinaidsalliance.com


What do you do if you find someone unconscious?

One of the most worrying things a parent or family member of a drug user has to face is finding someone unconscious. There can be a number of reasons for this one of them being an accidental overdose. We in the Network believe that if people are prepared for this eventuality then there is a chance that lives can be saved.

Warning Signs
When someone overdoses, there are a number of warning signs to look out for:

  • They look asleep or unconscious.
  • Their face or lips look pale or blue.
  • They are having trouble breathing.

What to do if you find a person overdoses…
1. The first thing we advise is “DON'T PANIC”.
2. Check and see if they are unconscious – Call their name, Shake them and shout 'are you ok'! 
3. If they don't wake up:

  • Dial 112 or 999 and ask for an ambulance.
  • Give your location as accurate as possible.
  • Tell the operator what's happening, explain the problem to them.
  • Make sure nothing is stuck down their throat – vomit or false teeth.
  • Check to see if they are breathing.
  • If you know how to do it, give mouth to mouth.
  • Put them on their side, in the RECOVERY POSITION.
  • Stay with them until the ambulance arrives.
  • If you know what they have taken, tell the ambulance crew.

When you dial 112 or 999 you will only be put through to the ambulance service. Don't be afraid that the police might be called, its more important that your child is saved.

When a drug user's tolerance is low they are more at risk of overdose. We would encourage you be aware of these times when they are:

  • Just out of prison.
  • Have completed a detox.
  • Have been discharged from hospital.
  • Have been drug free for any length of time.

The Recovery Position in four stages

Recovery Position

With your casualty lying on their back, kneeling at their side:-

A - Move the patient's nearest arm, as though they are stopping traffic; 

B - Lift the patient's furthest knee, and bring their furthest hand to the near side of their face; 

C - Using the patient's knee as a lever, pull them onto your knees 

D - Adjust the patient's position, as shown.


What are the main causes of overdose?

  • Mixing Drugs and Alcohol. Most overdoses happen when people mix their drugs, e.g. Benzos and alcohol or other drugs at the same time as injecting heroin.
  • Injecting drugs. People who inject heroin are much more likely to overdose than people who smoke it.
  • Using heroin when tolerance is low. It only takes a few days for tolerance to heroin to drop. A dose that at one time would not have had much effect can kill.

If you are interested in training in how to do mouth to mouth resuscitation or CPR why not try organise a session with your family support group.

Contact Us

National Family Support Network
5 Gardiner Row, Dublin 1, Ireland

Phone: +353 (01) 8980148
Fax: +353 (01) 8889628
Email: info@fsn.ie
Web: www.fsn.ie

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