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Home > Ten-year celebration of National Family Support Network.

Doyle, Anne (2018) Ten-year celebration of National Family Support Network. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 64, Winter 2018 , pp. 21-22.

PDF (Issue 64, Winter 2018) - Published Version

The National Family Support Network (NFSN)1 is a self-help organisation supporting the development of family support groups and networks throughout Ireland. Through their work they raise awareness of the difficulties faced by families in coping with substance misuse, while recognising the important role that families play in supporting the recovery of the substance-misusing family member.


Autonomous national organisation

Although founded in 2000, 2017 marked the 10-year anniversary of the NFSN gaining recognition as an autonomous national organisation. To mark this date, friends and stakeholders gathered in St Andrew’s Resource Centre on Pearse Street, Dublin, on 6 December 2017, to hear speakers talk about the importance of the work that NFSN does. Speakers included Susan Scally from the Drugs Policy Unit of the Department of Health; Anna Quigley from CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign2; former Assistant Garda Commissioner Tony Hickey; researcher Philip Isard; family support facilitator Maureen Penrose; parent Brigid Sugrue; and the main speaker and founder, Sadie Grace.


Sadie spoke with passion and emotion when she recalled how far the NFSN has come and its achievements of the last number of years. From humble beginnings, the NFSN was established in response to the lack of services available for families to where it is today, shaping national policies, carrying out research, advocating and lobbying for family rights. The NFSN’s work in highlighting the support that families provide received the ultimate accolade when the national drugs strategy formally recognised family members of substance misuse as ‘service users’.3 This milestone event is proof positive of the work being done by the NFSN.


Impact of NFSN

Susan Scally from the Drugs Policy Unit outlined the effect that the NFSN has had on shaping the national drugs strategy (2017—2025). Its family and community insight fed the extensive consultation process in forming the national drugs strategy. Next, Anna Quigley of CityWide took us on a whistle-stop tour of the organisation and their partnership with the NFSN from the 1980s — where there was much stigmatisation around drug misuse and where the focus lay with politicians and policy-makers — through to today, where communities and families have a clear input into policies and procedures governing drug misuse. Anna spoke warmly of the first service of commemoration organised by the NFSN in 2000, which became a catalyst for their subsequent work. She spoke of the ardent appeal for more accurate reporting of drug-related deaths, which they knew were being under-reported, and which eventually contributed to the creation of the National Drug-Related Deaths Index (NDRDI).4 She spoke of how the NFSN contributed to research carried out by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol on the impact of drug misuse in families.5 In addition, its contributions to the move towards the decriminalisation of narcotics in 2015 for personal use was another long fought-for appeal by the NFSN to support people and not punish them. National conferences and working with various organisations to publish reports are among the many strings to its bow.


Tony Hickey, former Assistant Garda Commissioner and board member of the NFSN, had the audience nodding in agreement and in laughter, and sometimes gasping, as he told anecdotes of his time working as a guard on the streets of Dublin. He recounted how Ireland could be a judgemental society but that families have worked hard to change attitudes.


Launch of report

The event was also an occasion to launch the report, Valuing family support: a social return on investment report on the value of family support for families coping with addiction issues.6


Philip Isard of Quality Matters7 outlined his research with the NFSN. Its collaboration was an attempt to understand the social and financial benefit of family support for individuals and the wider impact on families and organisations in Ireland.


With a lack of research on the impact of family support, the study involved the Gardaí, Tusla, NFSN, Local and Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Forces, local addiction services, drug users and, of course, families themselves. Using the social return on investment (SROI)8 methodology, the report states that for every €1 invested in the NFSN, it puts back at least €5 into the community. As the saying goes, ‘money talks’ and what could be more telling than this figure. The report was reviewed and verified by Social Value International9 and provides evidence of what families already knew but which is now confirmed.


Personal testimonies

To remind the audience of the realities for families living with substance misuse, Brigid Sugrue, a mother directly impacted by drugs misuse and ultimately death, told her story. In an often emotional speech, Brigid spoke of the ‘lifeline’ that was the Bereavement Support Programme of the NFSN and reiterated the importance of the work of NFSN. Also ‘on stage’ was Maureen Penrose, who spoke eloquently about the first of many services of commemoration: ‘We’re suffering, we’re many, we have a voice.’ She spoke of how you ‘won’t cry alone in the NFSN’ and that ‘you’re always supported’.


The event finished with a video summarising the work of the NFSN, including the establishment of its Drug-Related Intimidation Programme; its five-step method; statistics from the NDRDI to advocate for services; the Young Person’s Support Programme, and much more.

1  For further information on the National Family Support Network, visit

2  For further information on the CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign, visit

3  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.

4  For further information on the National Drug-Related Deaths Index (NDRDI), visit 

5  For further information on the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol, visit

6  Isard P (2016) Valuing family support: a social return on investment report on the value of family support for families coping with addiction issues. Dublin: National Family Support Network. Available online at

7  For further information on the organisation Quality Matters, visit

8  SROI is an increasingly well-used and highly regarded new methodology that enables organisations to examine the impact of their work and place a financial value on it.

9  For further information on Social Value International, visit

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