Home > Tools for co-ordinating drugs initiatives in the regions.

Pike, Brigid (2007) Tools for co-ordinating drugs initiatives in the regions. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 21, spring 2007, pp. 6-7.

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The need for co-ordinated and integrated responses to the drugs problem throughout the country led to the establishment of the regional drugs task forces (RDTFs).1 To achieve a co-ordinated response, the RDTFs were advised, when developing their strategies, to adopt a ‘partnership approach involving the statutory, voluntary and community sectors, through the development of a single, integrated plan, which all organisations and agencies … support and are committed to implementing’.2 

Although each of the 10 RDTFs has adopted its own distinctive mix of co-ordination tools, when the strategies are viewed together, the tools may be grouped around four main themes – governance, resources, communication, and service design.3 


Co-ordination is as good as the decisions made by those responsible for planning and implementing the ‘single integrated plan’. The RDTFs have given considerable thought to means of ensuring sound decision-making structures and systems, i.e. good governance. 

The task force structure is one important contributing factor. A ‘forum-type’ structure, organised around the four pillars of the National Drugs Strategy, with membership depending on the skills and information individuals can bring to the subject matter, has been canvassed. Various sub-groups to support the RDTFs by addressing distinct county-based, local or operational issues have been suggested. One RDTF proposed establishing an independent ‘expert group’ to support the evaluation of possible projects in terms of best practice. 

Securing the commitment of individual task force members is another critical factor. Members should be senior decision-makers in their own organisations, with the authority to commit resources, and should attend over a sufficiently long period to ensure continuity of knowledge and action.  At a deeper level,  ‘shared values’, enshrined if possible in a written agreement that also sets out common targets and goals, are regarded as important in winning the commitment of agencies and individual members. 

In respect of systems, planning and evaluation are seen as two useful co-ordination tools. The RDTF strategy itself can form the framework and foundation for co-ordination among all involved in service delivery and resource provision. Evaluation that, among other things, helps to review and reflect on practice, inform further planning and practice, share and disseminate experiences and learning, and ensure resources are used appropriately and effectively, is also an important tool in sustaining a co-ordinated approach.   It acts as a control mechanism, preventing an organisation from going off course or limping along ineffectually. 


To be effective, co-ordination efforts need to be adequately resourced. Over and above core task force staff, one RDTF has identified the need for 15 additional posts to provide enhanced support and liaison services throughout the region. One RDTF has called for a dedicated budget and associated delegations and responsibility to enable it to fund work addressing the drugs issue in the region. 


In line with their terms of reference, which call for the creation and maintenance of an up-to-date database on the nature and extent of drug misuse, and the provision of information on drug-related services and resources in the region,1 the RDTF strategies identify a variety of opportunities for the production and exchange of information.  It is the communication mechanisms for the exchange of information, including ideas and opinions, which are important for ensuring effective co-ordination. 

All 10 RDTFs report that they have engaged in extensive consultation in developing their strategies. This is in line with the ‘Guidelines for the Development of RDTF Strategy Plans’, which stipulate that ongoing consultation is also important.4   A number of RDTFs propose group forums to ensure that they hear on a continuing basis the views of different stakeholders. Forums of drug educators, of treatment and rehabilitation service providers, of service users, of parents, and of communities in relation to matters such as community policing, estate management, or issues relating to illicit drug use and underage drinking are envisaged.  Community development is also perceived as assisting co-ordination, partly through involving local communities in the actions of the RDTF and its members, and partly through building capacity that will enhance the participation of communities in decision-making processes. 

Interagency co-operation is seen as depending on, at minimum, an open policy of sharing information, such as research and models of effective practice, and working together to identify new solutions and new initiatives. Furthermore, a number of RDTFs have made a case for a wider advocacy and liaison role for the RDTFs, seeking to influence decisions in respect of actions that will positively impact on drug misuse and underage drinking, but which fall outside their direct sphere of influence. For example, some RDTFs have called for liaison or co-operation with other agencies, such as county development boards, community forums, or social inclusion measures working groups, in pursuit of common goals, or for lobbying, for example for community facilities. 

Service design

Two ‘clientcentric’ approaches to service design have been championed by various RDTFs – a case-based approach, and a broader approach predicated on the need to address drug misuse in the context of wider social inclusion issues. Both these approaches require real and effective co-ordination. 

Taking their lead from Action 47 of the National Drugs Strategy,5 several RDTFs call for the delivery of case-based treatment and rehabilitation services. The ‘key worker’ role, supporting the service user through the various stages of treatment and rehabilitation, is seen as a necessary element of the case-based approach. In one RDTF strategy, the key worker is to be a member of a multi-agency group, which is to meet monthly to review cases, and all the agencies are to sign up to a protocol for working together in a case-based model. It is anticipated that this arrangement will lead to a co-ordinated continuum of care for clients. 

In considering drug-related service design within the wider framework of social inclusion policy, one RDTF argues that it is important to tailor service developments to fit the needs of groups that are marginalised, disadvantaged or isolated. Such an approach may also overcome difficulties in co-ordinating responses: ‘One route to tackling coordination problems at local level would be to focus on outcomes for socially excluded target groups and to work towards a problem-solving agenda where a common problem is identified and a strategy to address this jointly agreed.’6 This may include addressing ‘protective’ factors, such as fostering strong and healthy communities, or providing good social or transport infrastructure, as much as ‘risk’ factors, such as treatment and rehabilitation initiatives. 

An interesting feature of these clientcentric approaches to service design is the opportunity they afford service users, as distinct from providers, to drive the co-ordination effort.


1.  Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (2001) Building on experience: National Drugs Strategy 2001–2008. Dublin: Stationery Office, Actions 92–94.

2.  National Drugs Strategy Team (2004) ‘Guidelines for the Development of RDTF Strategy Plans’. Unpublished. Dublin: National Drugs Strategy Team, p. 1.

3.  This survey is a sequel to the broad policy overview of the 10 RDTF strategies published in Issue 20 of Drugnet Ireland. See B Pike (2006) ‘RDTF strategies push out boundaries’. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 20, pp. 11–12.

4.  National Drugs Strategy Team (2004) ‘Guidelines for the Development of RDTF Strategy Plans’. Unpublished. Dublin: National Drugs Strategy Team, p. 3.

5.  Action 47 of the National Drugs Strategy reads: ‘To base plans for treatment on a “continuum of care” model and a “key worker” approach to provide a seamless transition between each different phase of treatment. This approach will enhance movement through various treatment and aftercare forms. In addition, the “key worker” can act as a central person for primary care providers (GPs and Pharmacists) to contact in connection with the drug misuser in their care.’

6.  Western Region Drugs Task Force (2006) Shared solutions: First strategic plan of the Western Region Drugs Task Force. Castlebar: Western Region Drugs Task Force, p. 42.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Issue Title
Issue 21, spring 2007
January 2007
Page Range
pp. 6-7
Health Research Board
Issue 21, spring 2007
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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