Drug treatment centre: ‘This place saved my life and gave the kids back their mother’

Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use visits treatment centres to hear about impact of drugs on individuals

On the floor of a room in the Ashleigh House drug treatment centre in Dublin, four children sat with smiles on their faces, their mothers nearby on chairs.

They were singing Old MacDonald had a farm, with loud bursts of “ee I ee I o” from the children as they bounced along to the rhythm of the nursery rhyme.

The saying “when the world says give up, hope whispers ‘try it again one more time’ ”, is painted on the yellow wall beside them.

For Rebecca Burke and her three year-old Sofia, the treatment centre in which they live is not just a healthcare facility, it is “a second home”.


Ms Burke was speaking during a visit by the Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use to the centre on Sunday Morning. Ashleigh House, run by Coolmine Treatment Centre, is the only mother and child residential treatment programme in Ireland.

It has a variety of different services, including a creche and preschool for the children who reside there, a polytunnel and garden, an on-site psychiatry service and a wellness room for pilates, and yoga

Ms Burke, a mother of six, first encountered drugs when she was around 15 or 16. Drugs and alcohol were so normalised, she said, that she didn’t realise the potential consequences recreational use could have.

“I didn’t feel like there was any harm until I had my own kids. Then I was getting a babysitter and using recreationally when I was having mammy time. At one stage, I was using because I had no energy as a mother, it was a coping mechanism,” she said.

She said she was constantly filled with guilt, trying to be the best mother she could be, while battling the addiction. That was why she decided it was time to seek treatment.

“You’re not alone any more when you come in here. There’s hope for a better life for me and the kids. I truly believe this place has saved my life, and gave the kids back their mother,” she added.

Pauline McKeown, chief executive of Coolmine, said Ashleigh House has capacity for 60 women annually, on five to six month inpatient programmes.

The average waiting time for admission is six to eight weeks, which, Ms McKeown said, is a “long time to wait when a woman has come forward seeking help”.

The service is vitally important, she said, as it “reduces the barriers for women to access treatment” as many mothers will feel they are unable to enter a programme if they cannot bring their kids with them.

The Assembly, comprising 99 randomly selected members and chairman Paul Reid, completed their second session this weekend with a tour of the treatment centre. Over the course of the weekend, they heard about the experience of drug use and its impact on individuals, families, front-line workers and communities.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Reid said one of the biggest takeaways to date is just how prevalent drug use is all across Ireland, but that it hurts marginalised areas with higher social deprivation issues.

“When you look at those areas with social deprivation, there’s a lot of stigmatisation that goes with the use of drugs, but maybe there’s not as much stigmatisation around drug use in other areas,” he said.

He added there were some policy decisions that could be made in advance of the publication of the assembly’s recommendations, such as the provision of payments for grandparents or other family members who care for children when their parents are in addiction or in treatment centres.

On Saturday, the mother of Dara Quigley told the assembly that her death affected her sister “really badly” and that she developed severe heroin dependency.

This weekend’s assembly session was the second of six, with the final one taking place in October, and the final report and recommendations set to be presented to the Oireachtas by the end of the year.

The next meeting will be in mid-June at The Grand Hotel in Malahide, where they will consider how the health system deals with drug use.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times