Home > Social inclusion and drugs policy.

Pike, Brigid (2016) Social inclusion and drugs policy. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 59, Autumn 2016, pp. 8-9.

PDF (Drugnet 59)

Following on from the previous article, this item outlines how the concept of social inclusion has been incorporated into the national drugs policy framework over the past 20 years as well as issues to consider going forward.



As long ago as 1996, the Ministerial Task Force on Measures to Reduce the Demand for Drugs recognised the link between problem drug use and socioeconomic disadvantage.1 The task force recommended the establishment of local drugs task forces in areas experiencing high levels of problem drug use, which coincided with areas experiencing social and economic disadvantage.


Ireland’s two subsequent seven-year national drugs strategies, published in 20012 and 2009,3 both set Ireland’s drug policy within the wider social inclusion policy context, to which a number of other national strategies, such as health,4 anti-poverty5 and education,6 had also been linked.


2001: The Group fully recognises that, notwithstanding the obvious benefits for communities affected by the drugs problem of having a specific drugs strategy, the best prospects for these communities, in the longer term, rest with a social inclusion strategy which delivers much improved living standards to areas of disadvantage throughout the country. (para. 6.1.9)


2009: The Group … notes that the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion, Children and Integration deals with a wide range of social inclusion policy areas, of which drugs is one issue. While the scope for routine debate on drugs is limited, therefore, the Group acknowledges that addressing the broader social inclusion agenda ensures that the drugs issue is taken into consideration, as it is an integral aspect of many of the social inclusion priorities. (para. 6.21)


2017 and after?

How the new National Drugs Strategy will address the links between social inclusion and illicit drugs policies remains to be seen. For example: 

  • How will social inclusion and illicit drug policy be handled at Cabinet level?
  • How will different government departments, state agencies, drugs task forces, and community and voluntary organisations be expected to address social inclusion and drug-related issues and with each other?
  • How will the concepts of active inclusion, life cycle framework and integrated social inclusion framework, all mentioned in Ireland’s current social inclusion policy framework, be applied in the drugs policy context?
  • Two articles in earlier issues of Drugnet Ireland on the links between social inclusion and drug policy have highlighted the importance of integrated responses. 

Inequality and illicit drug use4

In their study of the links between health, social problems and inequality, Wilkinson and Pickett5 argue that policy-makers should integrate health and social problems as elements of a single policy problem – inequality – rather than approach them as separate issues:


Attempts to deal with health and social problems through the provision of specialized services have proved expensive and, at best, only partially effective.... Rather than reducing inequality itself, the initiatives aimed at tackling health and social problems are nearly always attempts to break the links between socio-economic disadvantage and the problems it creates. The unstated hope is that people – particularly the poor – can carry on in the same circumstances, but will somehow no longer succumb to mental illness, teenage pregnancy, educational failure, obesity or drugs. (pp. 238–9)


Applying the life cycle approach to social inclusion policy6

In an article about the life cycle approach to social inclusion policy in Ireland, Whelan and Maître7 explain how the life cycle approach marks a shift in perceptions of the nature of risk. Traditionally, social policy interventions have focused on risks associated with unemployment, disability, and insufficient resources in childhood and old age, and have tended to redistribute resources across the life cycle, from working age groups to children and to older people. More recently, social policy interventions have begun to focus on risks faced by specific subgroups at particular stages in their lives, for example, risks associated with entering the labour market, remaining in the labour market, or managing care responsibilities. These ‘new’ risk perceptions have emerged in response to the greater variability and reduced stability in career and family patterns.


In essence, the life cycle approach seeks to reconcile social and economic objectives, and to emphasise the ‘multidimensional’ and ‘dynamic’ aspects of the social inclusion process: risks of being socially excluded are linked across problem areas, and difficulties experienced in any specific life cycle stage may be a consequence of difficulties in an earlier stage or a precursor of later problems.6


The authors go on to comment that while the life cycle approach offers a set of lenses through which to focus on the issues, it does not offer a ready-made set of prescriptions:


…a ‘general analytic framework that accounts for the dynamics and the links between events and the appropriate analytic tools’ is needed. To fully understand the nature of the dynamic inter-related risks requires the mapping of social exclusion patterns across the life cycle, and an understanding of the manner in which they combine with other socio-economic characteristics.6 


1 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: Stationery Office. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/5058/

2 Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (2001) Building on experience: national drugs strategy 2001–2008. Dublin: Stationery Office. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/5187/

3 Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (2009) National drugs strategy (interim) 2009–2016. Dublin: Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/12388/

4 Pike B (2011) Inequality and illicit drug use. Drugnet Ireland, 38: 8–10. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/15639//

5 Wilkinson R and Pickett K (2010) The spirit level: why equality is better for everyone. Published with revisions and a new postscript. London: Penguin Books.

6 Pike B (2008) Applying the life cycle approach to social inclusion policy. Drugnet Ireland, 28: 19–20. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/12148/

7 Whelan CT and Maître B (2008) ‘New’ and ‘old’ social risks: life cycle and social class perspectives on social exclusion in Ireland. Economic and Social Review, 39(2): 131–156.

Repository Staff Only: item control page