13th October 2017
The Drugs/HIV Helpline has just celebrated a major milestone. It is 20 years since the first calls on the helpline were taken, beginning a two-decade long journey of providing support to the public and professionals on the subject of drugs and alcohol and also HIV and sexual health.
Drugs, alcohol, HIV and sexual health
Now, in 2017, there are two services being offered: the Drugs and Alcohol Helpline and email support service as well as the HIV and Sexual Health Helpline and email support service.
Manager Aileen Dooley shares a typical day at work on the helpline.
“A typical day at the helpline starts with my arrival at the Helpline Office in Cherry Orchard Hospital. Once I’ve opened up and logged in, I check the calls and emails from the previous day to see if there are any things that need following up. It could be that we need to contact a service to update the information that we have on them; we need to find out more about services for a young person in a certain area or that we need to research a new drug or new issue of concern. Once that work has been started, a plan is set in place for the morning,” explains Aileen.
“At this point I check in with the Helpline team, going through any challenging calls that they may have had recently. If necessary, we can have a full debriefing session to talk through any impact from the call, any learning or whether a guiding policy for future calls needs to be drafted for a caller.”
She then checks the Helpline Email Support Service inbox, where emails from all over the world come in. The email support service was set up back in 2011 as a way to increase the accessibility of the Helpline to those who prefer to communicate through email. The numbers have steadily increased and now they rarely have a day without at least one email in the inbox.
“This morning, one email is from an Irish person returning home from working abroad for some time. He is HIV+ and is asking how he can access treatment here without a break in his medication. Another email is from a woman who is looking for advice on how to deal with her mother’s drinking.
No two contacts to the Helpline are the same but there are themes and trends and we find that there has been a definite rise in alcohol-related calls and email in recent years."
We double-check all email responses so I will either draft a response or double-check on a response my team has drafted, before it is sent back to the caller,” says Aileen.
One call is from a parent who has just discovered evidence of drug use and also drug dealing in her son’s bedroom.
“I help her to look at how she is feeling about this and we look at the fact that she does not have to have all of the answers or a plan ready today. We gently talk through what outcome she wants from this call and she comes up with a plan for who she wants to talk with about this and what resources she can tap into to help her over the few days. I invite her to call back.
“Another call is from a middle-aged woman who is trying to reduce her Nurofen Plus use. She finds it difficult to leave the house without it and finds it near impossible to pass her local pharmacy without buying some. Today she is feeling anxious and is once more considering making an appointment to speak with a counsellor about what’s happening to her,” says Aileen.
“I log some non-identifying details from these calls into our database highlighting the process of the call; whether the call is about drug or alcohol use; HIV and sexual health or another topic such as gambling. I note what substances if any, were discussed and what referral numbers were shared. This information helps inform our service policy and training, but also is shared with HSE Addiction service management so that they can also get a sense of the people who may not yet be engaged in treatment but who nonetheless are contacting the HSE for help.
“In the afternoon, I provide call supervision for one of my team. We do live supervision, which means that I listen in silently while they deal with a couple of calls and afterwards we sit together and reflect on what went well and if there was anything that could be improved upon.
In order to stay sharp on our need to use active listening skills well and to keep how we personally process our work in a healthy way, we need to have regular supervision."
“As the day draws to a close, I pause for a moment to consider the 77,000 calls and emails that we have dealt with in the 20 years since the Helpline first opened in July 1997. I think of the other Helpline workers who have taken those calls and how like me, they gave their best but were doubly gifted back by the conversations that we have on the phone every day,” she concludes.
You may have a patient, service user or family member who might benefit from calling the service. If you have any questions or concerns related to the Helpline or its work, please feel free to get in to contact on 1800 459 459 or Admin: 076-6955083 or
The service is available from Mondays to Fridays, from 9.30am to 5.30pm. Information is also available on
Askaboutalcohol.ie and Drugs.ie