An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, today joined Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister of State Catherine Byrne to launch Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery – a health led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025.
Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery lays out the direction of government policy on drug and alcohol use until 2025. The new strategy aims to provide an integrated public health approach to drug and alcohol use, focused on promoting healthier lifestyles within society.
The strategy contains an ambitious 50 point Action Plan from 2017 to 2020, and provides the scope to develop further actions between 2021 and 2025 to ensure the continued relevance of the strategy to emerging needs into the future.
The vision of the strategy is to create a healthier and safer Ireland, and its actions will contribute towards improving the health, wellbeing and safety of the population of Ireland in the coming years.
Launching the strategy the Taoiseach said:
Key actions of Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery include:
Speaking at the launch, Minister for Health Simon Harris said:
The Minister added:
Minister of State for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne said:
John Carr, Chairman of the National Drugs Strategy Steering Committee said:
Since 2011 the Government has done much to improve access to treatment and provide a wider range of services for those who develop health problems as a result of the consumption of alcohol and other drugs.
Methadone maintenance treatment is more widely available, particularly in inner city areas, and in those parts of the country with higher rates of heroin use.
Local and Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Forces (DATFs) have supported the development and expansion of integrated and accessible community-based services. This has resulted in greater access at local level to harm reduction initiatives, such as methadone and needle exchange and other wrap-around services and supports, such as advice and information, family support, childcare and complementary therapies.
Additional funding has increased the number of residential addiction beds providing treatment, detoxification and aftercare services.
More than €6 million was allocated for drugs initiatives in 2016, including €5 million for Task Force projects and around €1 million for the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol, the National Family Support Network and the Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign.
An additional €3 million was allocated in Budget 2017 to support:
However more needs to be done. In particular there is a need for wider access across Ireland to addiction services and to continue diversifying the range of treatment options available to meet current and emerging needs. The launch of this strategy is the first step on that road.
The nature and scale of the drug problem has changed since the inception of the 2009-2016 strategy. An up-to-date strategy is required to meet current patters of drug and alcohol use.
The 2014/15 drugs prevalence survey found that one in four Irish adults (26.4%) has tried an illegal drug at least once in their lifetime. In common with other European countries, the use of cannabis is considerably higher than any other form of illegal drug, with 6.5% of adults using this drug in the last year. Trends over the past decade point to an increase in the rate of recent and current drug use, with the greatest increases in amongst younger people aged 15-34. While heroin use has stabilised, it is still a significant issue in Ireland. There are currently about 10,000 people availing of methadone treatment.
New patterns of drug use and related harms have emerged over the past decade that need to be considered in developing an effective response to the drug problem. These include high risk behaviours associated with substance use, increased use of cannabis and ecstasy, particularly amongst younger people, and a rise in cannabis-related problems that may be associated with the increased use of more potent strains of domestically produced herbal cannabis.
One of the most devastating consequences of problem drug use is drug-related poisonings that lead to a loss of life. Data from the National Drug-Related Deaths Index (NDRDI), a national surveillance database which records drug-related deaths and deaths among drug users (such as those due to Hepatitis C and HIV), shows overdose deaths increased in Ireland from 301 in 2005 to 354 in 2014, representing an increase of 17.6%.
On 8 December 2015, the Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy established a Steering Committee to advise on the development of a new strategy and appointed an independent chair to guide the Committee in its work. To enable engagement with statutory, community and voluntary bodies who have a role in the delivery of the objectives of the Strategy, the Steering Committee convened four focus groups. Each focus group was asked to give their views on the relevance of the 2009-2016 strategy and to identify any gaps that should be addressed.
A focus group was established to examine each of the following areas:
Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery was also informed by a public consultation which was undertaken by RPS Project Communications, (part of the RPS group), on behalf of the Department of Health. The aim of the public consultation was to engage with the general public, people who use services, families, communities and organisations and to obtain their views on the drugs issue in Ireland to help inform the new strategy. Nearly 3,000 individuals and organisations from across Ireland provided feedback to the public consultation.
The Health Research Board (HRB) commissioned the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University to prepare a trends analysis on the drugs situation in Ireland and a report on the most recent international evidence on responses to problem drug use.
In addition, the Minister appointed an independent international expert panel to carry out a rapid review of the 2009-2016 strategy. The panel was chaired by Paul Griffiths, Scientific Director, EMCDDA and included Professor Sir John Strang, Director, National Addictions Centre, Kings College London and Nicola Singleton, Scientific Analyst, EMCDDA. The main objectives of the Rapid Expert Review were to examine the progress and impact of the strategy and to highlight areas for consideration in the development of the new strategy. The report is available on the Department of Health website.
The Vision of Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery is as follows:
The strategy sets out five goals that will be crucial to the achievement of this vision, with objectives pertaining to each goal.
The goals are as follows:
Key actions related to Goal 1:
Key actions related to Goal 2:
Key actions related to Goal 3:
Key actions related to Goal 4:
Key actions related to Goal 5:
The introduction, of a Performance Measurement System, incorporating a Resource Allocation Model (RAM), to achieve a more equitable distribution of resources across Task Force areas and strengthen the performance of the strategy.
A national oversight committee will provide leadership and direction to ensure that at the local level, staff from all relevant departments and agencies is engaged in supporting the implementation of the strategy. This committee will meet on a quarterly basis, be sponsored by the Minister of State and its members will be drawn from the community, voluntary and statutory sectors.
The National Oversight Committee will have the following terms of reference:
A standing sub-committee on implementation support will be established under the aegis of the national committee. The national committee will set the terms of reference, operational procedures and membership of the standing sub-committee. In general terms, it is expected that the standing sub-committee will be responsible for ensuring good governance, performance and accountability by the DATFs. In this context, it will play a key role in building the capacity of DATFs. The standing committee will report to the national committee.
The national oversight committee will establish other sub-committees, as it sees fit, to address specific issues and to harness relevant expertise to enable it to deliver on its key functions. Such committees will be required to report to the national committee.