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Home > Steering Group launches report on a national substance misuse strategy.

Mongan, Deirdre (2012) Steering Group launches report on a national substance misuse strategy. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 41, Spring 2012, pp. 1-2.

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The steering group report on a national substance misuse strategy1 was launched by Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer and chairman of the group, in the Department of Health on 7 February 2012. In 2009 the government decided to include alcohol in a national substance misuse strategy. Arising from this decision a steering group, chaired by the Department of Health, was established to advise government on a new strategy. The steering group was drawn from relevant government departments and agencies, medical professional bodies, the community and voluntary sectors and the alcohol industry. 

Dr Holohan outlined the extent of harmful drinking and its related harm in Ireland. In 2010 the per capita consumption for adults aged 15 years and over was 11.9 litres of pure alcohol, which corresponds to 45 bottles of vodka. Population surveys indicate that almost one and a half million adults in Ireland drink in a harmful manner. In addition, alcohol is responsible for 88 deaths every month and for 2,000 occupied beds every night in acute hospitals, and is a contributory factor in half of all suicides. The financial cost of alcohol was €3.7 billion in 2007, a figure that is likely to be an underestimate.
The report sets out the terms of reference of the steering group (p.5):
The Steering Group will:
·         having reviewed existing policies and reports, including at EU and international level, set out an evidence-based framework which identifies effective policies and actions to tackle the harm caused to individuals and society by alcohol use* and misuse. (*‘alcohol use’ in this context refers to the use of alcohol across the entire population. It does not imply that all alcohol use is harmful);
·         decide on appropriate structures and frameworks for an effective and efficient implementation plan for the National Substance Misuse Strategy;
·         align, as far as possible, these policies and actions with the existing five pillars of the National Drugs Strategy – supply, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research;
·         make proposals for an overall National Substance Misuse Strategy to incorporate the National Drugs Strategy 2009–2016; and
·         submit proposals in regard to such a National Substance Misuse Strategy to the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Drugs by the end of October 2010. Thereafter the proposals will be submitted to Government by the end of 2010.
Given the range of health problems that can arise from alcohol consumption, the steering group adopted a population-based approach. Such an approach, which is advocated by the World Health Organization, ‘benefits those who are not in regular contact with the health services and those who have not been specifically advised to reduce their alcohol intake’.2 It also helps prevent people from drinking harmful or hazardous quantities of alcohol in the first place. International evidence indicates that the higher the level of per capita consumption in a country, the higher the incidence of alcohol-related harm. Therefore, the overall aim is to reduce per capita consumption from 11.9 litres per adult aged 15 and over (2010 level) to 9.2 litres by 2016.
The main recommendations of the steering group include:
  •  increase the price of alcohol so that it becomes less affordable;
  •  introduce a legislative basis for minimum pricing, along with a ‘social responsibility’ levy on the drinks industry;
  • commence Section 9 (structural separation of alcohol from other products in supermarkets and other mixed trading outlets) of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008;
  •  introduce legislation and statutory codes to provide for:
    • a 9.00 p.m. watershed for alcohol advertising on television and radio;
    • limiting alcohol advertising in cinemas to only being associated with films classified as suitable for over-18s;
    • prohibiting all outdoor advertising of alcohol;
    • subjecting all alcohol advertising in the print media to stringent codes, enshrined in legislation and independently monitored;
  • phase out drinks industry sponsorship of sport and other large public events by 2016;
  • develop a system to monitor the enforcement of the provisions of the intoxicating liquor legislation;
  • establish a Clinical Directorate to develop the clinical and organisational governance framework to underpin treatment and rehabilitation services; and
  • develop early intervention guidelines for alcohol and substance use across all relevant sectors of the health and social care system. This will include a national screening and brief intervention protocol for early identification of problem alcohol use. 
According to Health Minister James Reilly’s written answer to a Dáil question:3  ‘The recommendations of the Steering Group on alcohol will encourage public debate and the Minister envisages an Action Plan being developed in advance of proposals being drafted for Government.’ 
1.     Department of Health (2012) Steering Group report on an National Substance Misuse Strategy. Dublin: Department of Health.
2.     Department of Health (2012) Launch of the report of the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group. Press release issued by the Department of Health on 7 February 2012.
3.     Reilly J (2012, 21 February) Parliamentary Debates Dáil Éireann (Official report: unrevised): Written answers. Vol. 756, No. 2, p. 407. Substance abuse. Question 595.


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