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Pike, Brigid (2015) Fianna Fáil publishes drugs action plan. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 54, Summer 2015, pp. 6-7.

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On 16 April 2015 Fianna Fáil launched a proposal for a Drugs Action Plan.1 In his Foreword to the plan, Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Justice and Equality, Niall Collins TD, wrote about the drugs ‘crisis’ and the ‘inadequate response’ of the government; the Fianna Fáil web site hailed the plan as a ‘radical new approach’. The plan reprioritises actions under the current policy framework.

Pointing to changes in the nature of the problem, including (1) a changing pattern of drug use, with alcohol and cannabis ‘causing problems for a vastly higher proportion of the population [than opiate addiction]’, (2) an over-concentration of resources in areas designated as disadvantaged, resulting in ‘huge geographical areas with no services at all’, and (3) new problems including the ‘new poor’ and ‘social problems such as mental health problems and co-occurring substance misuse issues manifest across the entire socio-economic spectrum’, the plan proposes a more equitable redistribution of resources between urban and rural areas, and between regional and local drugs and alcohol task forces, according to need.

Action plan

Under four themes, the action plan prioritises the need to strengthen the governance and co-ordination of drug policy, a stronger response to the needs of communities, a shift from a focus on medically-assisted treatment and maintenance to an emphasis on recovery, and the targeting of children and young people.

New national substance misuse strategy

The action plan commits to implementing a ‘new national substance misuse strategy’ inclusive of all drugs and including alcohol and cannabis. The current Programme for Government already contains a commitment to publish a national substance misuse strategy that combines illicit drugs and alcohol. The proposed plan also commits to ‘reappointing’ a Minister for Drugs and establishing a clear governance and co-ordination structure such as the former Office of the Minister for Drugs. Subsequent to the launch of the action plan, the Minister for Health announced the appointment of a dedicated Minister for Drugs (see item on page 1 of this issue of Drugnet). Co-ordination has long been recognised as critical for a cross-cutting issue such as illicit drug policy but it has proved difficult to do effectively.2 An Office of the Minister was briefly introduced by the Fianna Fáil–Progressive Democrats coalition government in 2010, but was disbanded a year later with the change of government.3

Community impact and crime

Communities are a priority in the action plan. The plan commits to ensuring an equitable distribution of resources across all communities, both urban and rural, disadvantaged and advantaged, and not just for opiate-related problems but for problems associated with the ‘new poor’, with problems associated with alcohol, cannabis use, polydrug use and comorbidity. The plan also seeks to tackle the impact of the operation of the drugs market on communities, for example the effects of drug-dealing and -using, anti-social behaviour arising from drug use, drug-related intimidation, the exploitation of young children by drug users, and any negative consequences from having a drug treatment centre located in a community. These issues have been discussed and measures taken to address them in the current or the previous national drugs strategy, predominantly under the Supply Reduction pillar.

Health, treatment and rehabilitation

The action plan commits to shifting from opiate substitution treatment to a recovery-focused approach. In describing the current policy approach, the plan states, ‘… seriously high levels of public funding has been dispersed via the HSE into methadone maintenance for opiate substitution in this country with little or no emphasis on progression, recovery or movement to drug free status for patients’ (p. 2). Among the seven actions listed in relation to treatment and rehabilitation are calls for a shift away from opiate substitution treatment in methadone clinics to treatment in general practices; the establishment of community-based support services providing evidence-based assessment, case management and structured care planning using an integrated care model to tackle the problems associated with alcohol and cannabis use; a stronger emphasis on a recovery-focused service, including a comprehensive after-care service and the creation of pathways to recovery. The increased interest reflects a trend seen in other jurisdictions including the USA, England and Scotland, and recently explored by members of the Oireachtas (Parliament).4

Children and young people

Children and young people are specially targeted in the action plan. Under the heading ‘Prevention and early intervention’, the plan lists four high-level actions focusing on school-children, children of drug misusers, and children and young people out of school. While this segmentation is similar to that in the current national drugs strategy (2009–2016), the drugs action plan specifies different interventions.

Policy questions

Moving directly to the action level, Fianna Fáil forewent an opportunity to start a national debate on possible future directions for Ireland’s drug and addiction policies. Questions that might have been asked include:

  • - What principles should underpin Ireland’s substance misuse policy – human rights, public health, social inclusion, reduction of supply, demand and/or harm?5
  • - What substances and/or behaviours should be included in a national substance misuse strategy? Ireland’s strategy has already been expanded to include not just controlled (illicit) drugs but also alcohol. In other countries the scope has expanded even further to fully embrace a public health approach to addictions, including not only all licit and illicit psychoactive substances, including tobacco as well as alcohol, but also addictive behaviours such as gambling, Internet addiction, eating disorders.6
  • - How should the supply of substances such as the two substances highlighted in Fianna Fáil’s action plan – alcohol and cannabis – be controlled? Both these substances are the subject of ongoing public discussion in Ireland. In November 2013 Dáil deputies debated a private member’s motion to regulate the cultivation, sale and possession of cannabis and cannabis products in Ireland. Although the motion was lost, there was support for decriminalisation and for regulation.7 In February 2015 the government released the General Scheme of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, intended to more strictly regulate the alcohol market.8
  • - What contribution will Ireland make to UNGASS 2016, the special session of the UN General Assembly due to be held in New York on 19–21 April 2016, to assess ‘the achievements and challenges in countering the world drug problem, within the framework of the three international drug control conventions and other relevant United Nations instruments’?9

 

1 Collins N (2015) Drugs action plan. Dublin: Fianna Fáil https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/23816/

2 Pike B (2008) Development of Ireland’s drug strategy 2000–2007. HRB Overview Series 8. Chapter 4: ‘Implementing strategy’. Dublin: Health Research Board https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/11465/

3 Pike B (2011) Where do drugs fit in? Drugnet Ireland (37): 3–4 https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/14983/ and Pike B and Nelson M (2011) National drugs strategy goes to Department of Health Drugnet Ireland (38): 3–4 https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/15630/

4 Pike B (2014) Recovery in national drugs strategies. Drugnet Ireland (51): 8–10 https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/22908/ ; Joint Committee on Health and Children (2015, 26 March) ‘Drug addiction and recovery models: discussion’. Downloaded on 22 April 2015 at http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie

5 Pike B (2012) What makes for a ’good’ drugs policy? Drugnet Ireland (44): 11–13. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/19134/

6 Pike B (2015) How does Ireland’s drugs policy compare with others? Drugnet Ireland (53): 4–5. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/23687/

7 Pike B (2014) Dáil debate on cannabis. Drugnet Ireland (49): 6–9. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/21673/

8 Department of Health (2015, 4 February) General Scheme of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015. Downloaded on 22 April 2015 at

http://health.gov.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/General-Scheme-of-the-Public-Health-Alcohol-Bill-2015.pdf

9 Since Issue 48, Drugnet Ireland has been carrying a column ‘Towards UNGASS 2016’, which reports on policy initiatives, research and debates launched by UN member states and civil society organisations in the lead-up to UNGASS 2016.

Item Type
Article
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Policy
Issue Title
Issue 54, Summer 2015
Date
July 2015
Page Range
pp. 6-7
Publisher
Health Research Board
Volume
Issue 54, Summer 2015
EndNote

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