Home > How does evidence feed into Ireland’s drug policy?

Pike, Brigid (2010) How does evidence feed into Ireland’s drug policy? Drugnet Ireland, Issue 35, Autumn 2010, p. 3.

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The last issue of Drugnet Ireland reported on a recent study that sought to identify what constitutes the ‘evidence’ relating to the drugs problem and how one decides what is the ‘best’ evidence?1 Another recent publication explores the process rather than the content – how does evidence feed into policy?2 It draws together the lessons from six European countries, including Ireland. The authors of the article on the Irish experience identify four mechanisms that serve to ‘feed’ evidence into Ireland’s social policy development process in the health care sector:3  

1.     social partnership,
2.     research producers for government, e.g. National Economic and Social Council (NESC), National Economic and Social Forum (NESF) and Combat Poverty Agency (CPA),
3.     academic research, and 
4.     professional associations.
This list provides a useful starting point for considering the range and nature of ‘knowledge exchange’ mechanisms in the drug policy domain.
Ireland’s two national drugs strategies were developed using the social partnership approach, depending on public consultation meetings held throughout the country, written submissions, meetings with departments, statutory agencies, sectoral groups, organisations and focus groups, and engaging with the Oireachtas. Kennedy and colleagues 3 comment that, in the current economic climate, the social partnership model is under strain and whether or how it will continue to serve as a defining characteristic of policy development in Ireland is uncertain.
‘Research producers for government’ have been another casualty of the current recession, with the work of the NESF and the Combat Poverty Agency being absorbed into the work of other entities. Notwithstanding the contribution that research published by both these bodies made to increasing understanding of the issues associated with problem drug use, an independent study of the overall impact of state agencies such as these concluded that their performance appeared ‘less than optimal, in terms of both their perceived effectiveness and the level of duplication and overlapping responsibilities’ (p. 130).4
With regard to academic research, Ireland has only one drug-related research centre – the Irish Focal Point (IFP) of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), located in the Health Research Board (HRB). Funded by the EMCDDA, the IFP compiles an annual report on the drug situation in Ireland and responses to it, and participates in EMCDDA-led data-gathering, analysis and dissemination projects in conjunction with focal points in other member states. The IFP draws on the drug-related epidemiological databases located in the HRB – the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS) and the National Drug-Related Deaths Index (NDRDI) – for much of its work. While there is a paucity of dedicated drug-related research infrastructure, individuals in tertiary institutions across the island of Ireland, in academic disciplines ranging from medicine to pharmacology to criminology and sociology, undertake drug-related research. The database of current research and evaluation projects on the website of the National Documentation Centre on Drug Use5 indicates that a significant proportion of drug-related research projects are funded either through state funding bodies such as the HRB, or commissioned by state agencies such as the Health Service Executive or the National Office on Suicide Prevention.
Finally, practitioners in specific callings relating to drugs and addiction have come together to form professional associations in Ireland, for example the Drug Education Workers Forum and the Irish Association of Addiction and Alcohol Counsellors (IAAAC). However, there is no umbrella organisation that brings together professionals and non-professionals, academics, policy makers, public officials, and members of organisations under the social partnership pillars, to debate, discuss and contribute to developing thinking on drug policy in Ireland. A national conference on drugs, organised by a group of voluntary-sector bodies, will be held in Dublin on 4–5 November 2010 (see article on p. 1). Such an event could be an opportunity to form an independent forum.
One formal knowledge-exchange mechanism not described by Kennedy and colleaguesbut used in Ireland’s drugs policy domain is the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD). Appointed by the Minister with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, the NACD includes representatives from academic disciplines, professional practitioners, civil and public servants, and representatives of the voluntary and community sectors. It advises the government on problem drug use in Ireland in terms of prevalence, prevention, consequences and treatment, based on its analysis and interpretation of research findings; where it finds gaps in knowledge, it may commission research. While stipulating that the independence of the NACD’s research work would be ‘fully maintained’, the National Drugs Strategy 2009–2016 brought the NACD within the ambit of the new Office of the Minister for Drugs. The intention was ‘to better address the issue of linkages between policy development and research’ (para. 6.74).6
1. See report onT Babor, J Caulkins J, G Edwards, B Fischer, D Foxcroft, K Humphreys et al. (2010) Drug policy and the public good (Oxford: Oxford University Press) in Drugnet Ireland, (34): 11–12.
2. Nutley S, Morton S, Jung T and Boaz A (2010)Evidence and policy in six European countries: diverse approaches and challenges. Evidence & Policy, 6(2): 131–144. The issue includes articles on evidence-based policy and practice in Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Scotland and Sweden. 
3. Kennedy P, de Brun T, O’Reilly-de Brun M and MacFarlane A (2010) An exploration of evidence-based policy in Ireland: health and social inclusion. Evidence & Policy, 6(2): 255–268.
4. Quinn O (2008) Advisers or advocates? The impact of state agencies on social policy. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration.  
5. www.drugsandalcohol.ie  accessed on 30 June 2010.
6. Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (2009) National Drugs Strategy (interim) 2009 –2016. Dublin: Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Available at www.drugsandalcohol.ie/12388
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 35, Autumn 2010
Page Range
p. 3
Health Research Board
Issue 35, Autumn 2010
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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