Home > Public consultation for the new drugs strategy.

Dillon, Lucy (2017) Public consultation for the new drugs strategy. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 63, Autumn 2017, p. 9.

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The new national drug and alcohol strategy (NDS), Reducing harm, supporting recovery: a health-led approach to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017—2025,1 was informed by a number of inputs, including a public consultation process. The public were invited to provide feedback on what they thought of the 20092016 strategy and what issues should be considered in the development of the new strategy. They could provide this by making a written or oral submission to the Department of Health, completing a questionnaire, or attending one of six regional events. Submissions and questionnaires could be made or submitted over the phone, by email, by post, or through the Department of Health’s website. Furthermore, there was an event and questionnaire that specifically targeted young people. Report on public consultation undertaken to inform the new national drugs strategy was subsequently published in May 2017.2


The process

The consultation was held over a six-week period between September and October 2016. Those who took part included the general public, Drug and Alcohol Task Forces, service providers, service users, voluntary organisations, members of political parties, and elected representatives. The number of consultation questionnaires received was 2,115; youth questionnaires was 265; other feedback or submissions was 211; and attendees at the regional events was 363. The views expressed through these are summarised in the report. It is structured around the five pillars of the 2009—2016 strategy — prevention, supply reduction, treatment, rehabilitation, research — with additional chapters to cover feedback on the structure and content of the NDS 2009—2016, and ‘youth feedback’.


Key findings

The summary of the lengthy report (i.e. 227 pages) focuses on recurring themes from the process. These include:

  • Coverage: The importance of alcohol as a major drug of misuse was identified and some participants thought it should be included in the new strategy.
  • Geographical coverage: Drug misuse was seen as a national problem, with a call for greater access to information, treatment and rehabilitation services for people irrespective of where they live. In addition, it was argued that the supply and widespread availability of drugs throughout the country needed to be addressed.
  • Drug education and awareness: There was an appeal for more education programmes that were evidence based and could be delivered to children of primary school age. More public awareness campaigns were also called for.
  • Medicinal cannabis: A recurring theme was that cannabis should be made available by prescription for medicinal purposes.
  • Drug use as a health issue: Participants argued that people who use drugs should not be treated like criminals and that use should be treated as a health rather than a criminal issue.
  • Stigma of being a user: Service users described the shame and stigma that goes with their addiction. They wanted to feel ‘the values of respect, compassion, and a sense of choice at the heart of services provided to them’ (p. 2).
  • Debt intimidation and violence: These were identified as problems facing users and their families that needed to be addressed.
  • Treatment availability: A need to increase and improve the availability of treatment and rehabilitation services across the country and to all groups was recognised.
  • Terminology: There was some suggestion that using language that is led by the substance's legal status is unhelpful (i.e. illicit) and that instead they should be defined as ‘harmful’.
  • Dual diagnosis: Participants identified the problem of gaining access to services for those who have dual diagnosis as an important issue for the new strategy to address.
  • Alternatives to methadone: There was a call for alternatives to methadone to be made available.
  • Prescription medication: The misuse of prescription medication was described as widespread and problematic.
  • Coordination of delivery: A need was identified for improved communication and coordination between statutory, community and voluntary sectors, as well as increased funding for those delivering services on the ground.
  • Quality standards: These were identified as in need of improvement across the sector.
  • Hidden harm: The needs of children and young people whose families/caregivers were affected by addiction were identified.
  • Research: The need for good-quality evidence to inform the strategy and service delivery was identified.
  • Family and community: The central role of families and communities in addressing local drug issues was discussed.
  • Family support: There was a call for more support for families living with a family member’s addiction.


1 Department of Health (2017) Reducing harm, supporting recovery: a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017—2025. Dublin: Department of Health. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/27603/

2 RPS Group plc (2017) Report on public consultation undertaken to inform the new national drugs strategy. Dublin: Department of Health. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/27489/

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