Home > Reducing stigma in Ireland.

Dillon, Lucy (2018) Reducing stigma in Ireland. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 65, Spring 2018, pp. 1-3.

PDF (Drugnet Ireland Issue 65, Spring 2018) - Published Version

The national drugs and alcohol strategy Reducing harm, supporting recovery: a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017‒20251 follows through on the commitment made by the Government in May 2016 to pursue a health-led rather than a criminal justice approach to drug use.2 Seeing drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal one is an important step towards reducing the stigma experienced by people who use drugs. Activities that aim to raise awareness of the issue and set out to reduce the stigma are ongoing in Ireland.


UISCE and the Press Ombudsman

In October 2017, the Press Ombudsman of Ireland issued an advisory notice3 to all national and local newspaper editors. The letter was sent following an approach made to the Ombudsman by the Union for Improved Services, Communication and Education (UISCE). In their submission, UISCE made a number of key points that are echoed in the report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy which is covered in the next article and explores the negative perceptions of drugs and the people who use them.4

Those cited in the Ombudsman’s advisory notice include:

Stigma is a barrier to equality. The language and imagery used to describe addiction in the media contributes to the stigma experienced by people who use drugs.

There is a ‘widely-held, generalising, and unscientific position’ that illicit drugs are ‘bad’ and this informs a perception that people who use drugs are bad too.

Drug use is viewed as unacceptable and criminal and therefore people who use drugs are labelled as ‘deviant criminals’.

Stigma leads to discrimination and they are ‘what drive the gross violations of the human rights of people who use drugs, and also result in these violations going for the most part unchallenged’.


UISCE provides a sample list of stigmatising language and offers alternatives that it advocates using.5


CityWide campaign

On behalf of CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign, on 27 February 2018, the Minister of State for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne TD, launched a new campaign that focuses specifically on the issue of stigma called ‘Stop the Stigma: Addiction is a health issue not a crime’.6 Its overall aim is to challenge drug-related stigma. CityWide believes that stigma will have a negative impact on the effective implementation of many of the actions in the national drugs strategy. Stigma is identified by CityWide and its partners as presenting a barrier to people who want to address their problem drug use; it drives people into isolation, danger and back into addiction. They argue that it labels families and neighbourhoods. It destroys people’s prospects and their chance to contribute to society. CityWide see this as bad news for everyone; for people who have problems with addiction, for their families and their wider communities, and for people who work in addiction and related public services.


The first stage of the campaign is about increasing awareness of stigma and its impact, as well as building up alliances through a wide range of non-governmental organisations and civil society networks.

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. http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/27603/

2    Government of Ireland (2016) A programme for a partnership government. Dublin: Department of the Taoiseach. http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/25508/

3    See UISCE’s 2017 newsletter Brass Munkie, especially pages 8 and 9, which include the full advisory notice from the Press Ombudsman: http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/28378/

4    Global Commission on Drug Policy (2018) The world drug perception problem: countering prejudices about people who use drugs. Geneva: Global Commission on Drug Policy. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/28434/

5    The full list is available at: http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/28473/  

6    The campaign messages and materials can be accessed at: http://www.citywide.ie

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Harm reduction
Issue Title
Issue 65, Spring 2018
Page Range
pp. 1-3
Health Research Board
Issue 65, Spring 2018
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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