Home > The impact of drug treatment demand data on policy and practice.

Sinclair, Hamish (2007) The impact of drug treatment demand data on policy and practice. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 21, spring 2007, p. 20.

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Determining whether research findings have influenced policy and practice is not easy. A recent publication by the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe attempts to address this issue in relation to drug treatment demand data.1


The Pompidou Group has advocated the systematic and routine collection of information on clients entering treatment for problem drug use (treatment demand data) since the mid-1980s. During the early 1990s the Pompidou Group developed and tested a standard set of core data to be collected on a routine basis from drug treatment providers, using comparable procedures and criteria. As a result of this early work, a treatment demand protocol was developed and implemented in many European countries, while in other countries existing systems were adapted to become as comparable as possible with the Pompidou Group methodology.2 The protocol and the experience gained through its application served as a starting point for the harmonisation of the treatment demand indicator in the EU by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.


Given that treatment demand data have been collected in many European countries for the best part of two decades, it is understandable that questions should be asked about how these data have been used to influence policy and practice development. The Pompidou Group publication takes a very pragmatic approach to answering this question. In order to establish the link between the use of treatment demand data and a subsequent policy or practice decision, it was necessary to have documentary evidence to support the connection. For example, a policy recommendation had to be supported or based on the findings of treatment demand data and a reference to this effect had to be evident in the relevant policy document.


Three case studies, one each from Ireland, Italy and Slovenia, are provided to illustrate this documentary link. The Irish case study is described below.


In July 1996, the Irish Government set up a Ministerial Task Force to review the measures to reduce the demand for drugs and, in the light of that review, to recommend changes in policy, legislation or practice to facilitate more effective drugs reduction strategies. In its first report,3 published in October 1996, the Task Force recognised that Ireland’s drug problem was primarily an opiates problem – mainly heroin – and, further, that Ireland’s heroin problem was principally a Dublin phenomenon. Using maps produced by the Health Research Board’s drug treatment reporting system showing the areas of residence of those receiving treatment for drug misuse in the greater Dublin area in 1995, the Task Force identified 10 local areas where the heroin problem was most acute. An additional, eleventh, area was identified in Ireland’s second major city, Cork. It was noted that there was a high correlation between these areas and areas of economic and social disadvantage. The Task Force concluded that ‘in view of the link between economic and social deprivation and drug misuse, strategies to deal with the problem need to be focused on these areas’. As a result, the Task Force recommended a series of drugs initiatives, one of which was the establishment of local drugs task forces comprising statutory, voluntary and community representatives, in each of the eleven worst-affected areas. Each local drugs task force was mandated to draw up a profile of all existing or planned services and resources available in the area to combat the drugs crisis and to agree a development plan to build on these.


The Government accepted the recommendations contained in the first report of the Ministerial Task Force and local drugs task forces were set up in 1997. In its second and final report, published in May 1997, the Ministerial Task Force identified a further two worst-affected areas in Dublin and recommended that local drugs task forces should be established in these areas also.4


Today, local drugs task forces provide a mechanism through which local communities are able to work closely in partnership with the statutory sector to tackle local drug problems. Indeed, it is recognised that a critical factor in the success of the whole process was the involvement of local community groups since they ‘brought to the table the most direct knowledge of the drugs issue at a local level and the most direct stake in improving the situation.5


Local and, more recently, regional drugs task forces continue to use data from the National Drug Treatment Reporting System to monitor the drug situation in their areas and to plan services.


1.  Sinclair H (2006) Drug treatment demand data: influence on policy and practice. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.

2.  Stauffacher M and Kokkevi A (1999) The Pompidou Group treatment demand protocol: the first pan-European standard in the field. European Addiction Research, 5: 191–6.

3.  Ministerial Task Force on Measures to Reduce the Demand for Drugs (1996) First report of the Ministerial Task Force on measures to reduce the demand for drugs. Dublin: Department of the Taoiseach.

4.  Ministerial Task Force on Measures to Reduce the Demand for Drugs (1997) Second report of the Ministerial Task Force on measures to reduce the demand for drugs. Dublin: Department of the Taoiseach.

5.  PA Consulting Group (1998) Evaluation of drugs initiatives. Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation. Final report. Dublin: PA Consulting Group (unpublished).

Item Type
Publication Type
International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 21, spring 2007
January 2007
Page Range
p. 20
Health Research Board
Issue 21, spring 2007
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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