Home > RDTF strategies push out the boundaries.

Pike, Brigid (2006) RDTF strategies push out the boundaries. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 20, Winter 2006, pp. 11-12.

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By mid-2005, all 10 regional drugs task forces (RDTFs) had submitted their first strategic and/or action plans to the National Drugs Strategy Team for approval (see Table 1).1 Aligned with, and intended to contribute to the achievement of the overall aims of the National Drugs Strategy, and the objectives and actions under the four pillars, these regional strategies also highlight additional policy concerns, a selection of which is noted below.


Table 1:  Regional drugs task forces and catchment areas

Regional drugs task force

Catchment area

East Coast

South Dublin City and County excluding seven LDTF areas, East Wicklow


Counties Laois, Longford, Offaly, Westmeath


Counties Clare, Limerick, North Tipperary

North Dublin City and County

North Dublin City and County excluding five LDTF areas

North East

Counties Cavan, Louth, Meath, Monaghan

North West

Counties Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo and north-west Cavan


Counties Cork, Kerry

South East

Counties Carlow, Kilkenny, South Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford

South West

South and West Dublin, West Wicklow and County Kildare


Counties Galway, Mayo, Roscommon


While the National Drugs Strategy focuses entirely on illicit drugs, calling simply for ‘complementarity’ between illicit drugs and alcohol policies, the majority of the RDTF strategies address both alcohol and drugs misuse. A variety of reasons is given – because alcohol is the biggest problem drug; because alcohol is a bigger problem than drugs, and given the ‘deregulation’ of the sale of alcohol, treatment service provision needs to be funded as a priority; because polydrug use, including alcohol misuse, is prominent among young people using drugs and the alcohol and drug cultures are intertwined and need to be addressed as part of an inclusive approach. One plan calls for a co-ordinated approach between issues to deal with illicit drug abuse and alcohol abuse but only among teenagers, on the basis that alcohol is not an illicit drug for adults. Two plans, neither of which addresses the problem of alcohol misuse at all, call for the omission of alcohol from the terms of reference for the RDTFs to be reconsidered by the government.


Alcohol-related supply reduction or control measures identified in the RDTF plans include more regulation of off-licences and supermarkets, introduction of a responsible sale of alcohol programme, opposition to ‘happy hours’ and alcohol promoting events, and rigorous enforcement of the law in relation to alcohol. Prevention measures include health promotion campaigns to ensure public awareness of alcohol and related issues, and early health promotion interventions to curb the sale of alcohol to under-age young people. Treatment measures include the use of validated screening tools, brief interventions for people with problem alcohol use or alcohol dependence, counselling, and community-based alcohol detoxification services.


Theurban versus rural location of drug misusers presents a number of challenges not addressed by the National Drugs Strategy but, hardly surprisingly, the matter is raised by a number of RDTFs. With regard to the supply and control of drug markets, concerns are voiced about the nature of links and movements between urban areas and their rural hinterlands. In relation to drug-related treatment services, it is pointed out that urban areas may have a critical mass of service users concentrated in the one locality, resulting in economies of scale for service provision and ease of access for users; in rural areas, however, potential service users may be widely scattered in small villages or remote areas, without easy access to transport. This poses logistical and social challenges in terms of providing services that are both accessible to users (either by offering transport to larger centres or through providing services locally), and also discrete (in order to minimise the risk of stigma attaching to those seen attending the service).


In line with the National Drugs Strategy, the RDTFs acknowledge social inclusion as the policy framework within which their strategies and actions are set. The Western RDTF strategy document devotes a whole chapter to social inclusion. It describes the nature of the linkage between drugs and social exclusion – ‘Poverty and deprivation are more likely to encourage than discourage drug use, and substance misuse can be both cause and effect of social exclusion’2 – and discusses the needs of specific socially-excluded groups, including those living in remote rural areas or in socially disadvantaged areas, the homeless, Travellers, and prisoners. It also identifies several tailored service developments to weaken the link between the socially excluded and illicit drugs, including assertive outreach initiatives, decentralised mechanisms that reach to the heart of rural areas, and focusing on outcomes for socially excluded target groups and working to solve the full range of their problems, including substance misuse, in an integrated fashion.


Recent commentators in the UK have problematised the concept of social exclusion. It has been found difficult to test the concept empirically, i.e. to find evidence of social exclusion as distinct from social or economic deprivation, and it has been argued that the concept has served to mask the inequalities and conflicts of interest said to be inherent in market-based societies and to affect a much larger cross-section than those categorised as ‘socially excluded’.3 The relationship between social exclusion policy and the drugs issue has also been questioned. It has been suggested that filtering drug policies through a social exclusion policy framework may not directly benefit drug misusers:  ‘allowing a social exclusion agenda to determine our drug policies will skew services heavily towards those that attempt to prevent crime, reassure the frightened and promote employment – that is, away from those that prioritize the complex needs of people who are actually addicted.’4


As an alternative to social inclusion, the Southern RDTF has based its strategic plan within an equality framework. Its assessment of the drugs and alcohol situation in the southern region is organised around consideration of seven of the nine grounds specified in Ireland’s Equal Status Act 2000 (gender, sexual orientation, family status, age, disability, race and membership of the Travelling community), two of the proposed additional grounds (criminal convictions and socio-economic status), and two other variables (homelessness, and literacy levels, which may have an influence on the effectiveness of prevention strategies). The choice of an equality framework is justified thus: ‘The challenge for the Southern Regional Drugs Task Force in setting forth its four-year strategy is to ensure that the agreed policy and its implementation will meet people’s needs and positively impact on their lives. To achieve that requires the rethinking of established norms. … More and more it has come to be accepted that the ‘one size fits all’ policy framework does not work and in its place what is required is a more targeted, focused approach.’5  


While targeting is necessary to meet needs specific to particular groups experiencing inequality, Niall Crowley, CEO of the Equality Authority, has recently argued that that it must be matched by mainstreaming, which seeks to promote equality through all key policies, programmes and practices: ‘A dual strategy means that some targeted initiatives will be taken to support the capacity of mainstream institutions and organisations to take account of diversity and to promote equality. It means that mainstreaming will stimulate decision makers to put in place targeted initiatives where inequalities are identified that will not be addressed by general policies, programmes or practices.’6


1. Regional drugs task forces (RDTFs) were established in 2003, in line with Actions 92–97 of the National Drugs Strategy 2001–2008. Their terms of reference include the development of a ‘co-ordinated and integrated response to tackling the drugs problem in their region’.  To date, the strategic plans of five RDTFs have been described Drugnet Ireland: North East (Siobhán Reynolds, Issue 15, p.1), Western (Sarah Fanagan, Issue 18, p. 19), Southern (Siobhán Reynolds, Issue 19, p. 12), North West (Sarah Fanagan, Issue 19, p. 21 ) and Midland (Sinéad Foran, Issue 20, p. 13).

2. Western Drugs Task Force (2006) Shared solutions: first strategic plan of the Western Regional Drugs Task Force. Castlebar: WRDTF, p. 37.

3. See Welshman J (2006) Underclass: A history of the excluded 1880–2000. London: Hambledon Continuum, for an account.

4. Neale J (2006) Social inclusion and drug policy. In Hughes R, Lart R and Higate P (eds) Drugs: policy and politics. Maidenhead, Berks: Open University Press, p. 14.

5. Southern Regional Drugs Task Force (2005) Strategic plan 2005–2008 and action plan 2005–2007. Cork: SRDTF, pp. 8–9.

6. Crowley N (2006) An ambition for equality. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, p. 120.


Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Prevention, Harm reduction
Issue Title
Issue 20, Winter 2006
October 2006
Page Range
pp. 11-12
Health Research Board
Issue 20, Winter 2006
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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