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Home > Twentieth Annual Service of Commemoration and Hope.

Lynn, Ena (2019) Twentieth Annual Service of Commemoration and Hope. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 69, Spring 2019 , p. 28.

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The National Family Support Network (NFSN)1 is an autonomous self-help organisation that provides support to families and respects the experiences of families affected by substance misuse in a welcoming non-judgemental atmosphere. On Friday, 1 February 2019, the NFSN held its 20th Annual Service of Commemoration and Hope. This spiritual, multidenominational service is held in remembrance of loved ones lost to substance misuse and related causes and to publicly support and offer hope to families living with the devastation that substance misuse causes. The service was preceded by a procession from the ‘Home’ memorial on Sean MacDermott Street, Dublin, to the nearby Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, led by the band of An Garda Síochána.


Those in attendance included Ms Catherine Byrne TD, Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy; Comdt Caroline Burke, aide-de-camp to An Taoiseach; representatives from An Garda Síochána, including Chief Supt Sean Ward and Det Supt Brian Woods; Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Bishop Eamonn Walsh and other religious representatives; as well as family members, friends, and many people involved in substance misuse work. Music was provided by soprano Nickola Hendy, Cathal Holland and the Gardiner Street Gospel Choir.


Work of NFSN

In her address to the gathering, Sadie Grace, coordinator of the NFSN, spoke directly to family members, stressing that they are not alone in their grief. Data from the National Drug-Related Deaths Index (NDRDI) show that over 700 people die directly or indirectly due to drug use on an annual basis. She highlighted the NFSN’s many achievements, including advocating strongly for accurate figures on drug-related deaths, which had culminated in the establishment of the NDRDI in 2005. The NFSN had also advocated for the rollout of the naloxone programme, which was set up to help reverse the effects of opiate overdose through training, in recognition and response to overdose due to opiates, in addition to appropriate administration of naloxone.


She acknowledged the assistance given by Archbishop Martin in helping the NFSN support families financially with funeral costs. Sadie highlighted the impact that drug-related deaths can have, especially the stigma and shame felt by families, and the need for specific bereavement support. This need was supported by research carried out by Dr Sharon Lambert, whose findings showed that drug-related deaths must be classified as special deaths that require specific bereavement support. The NFSN advocated for the inclusion of an action in the current drugs strategy for provision of bereavement support, specifically for drug-related deaths. The first addiction-specific bereavement support counselling was set up in September 2018 by the NFSN in Dublin’s north inner city, but needs to be available nationwide. Sadie stressed that respite was a crucial lifeline for families and, on a positive note, announced that the NFSN has secured funding for their annual respite conference.


In relation to drug-related intimidation, she said that ‘meaningful action’ needed to be taken and that drug-related intimidation is affecting families all over Ireland. Sadie finished by offering families hope. She stressed that the work of the NFSN will continue to advocate for better services for families and that their loved ones need person-centred, accessible and early intervention. The NFSN will continue to fight for family support to be accessible throughout Ireland. She invited any family member affected by a drug-related death to contact the NFSN for help with their bereavement.


Impact of drug-related deaths

In her address, Minister Byrne emphasised the ongoing valuable work of the NFSN. She acknowledged and extended her sympathy to the bereaved families present. In addition, she stressed her commitment as Minister of State to continue to highlight the impact of drug-related deaths and welcomed the health-led approach and actions on family support included in the new strategy.2


Dr Sharon Lambert called for a public campaign to help decrease the stigma related to drug and alcohol addiction. Highlighting findings from her bereavement report, she stated that the stigma linked to drug-related deaths leads to complicated bereavement. A drug-related death must be treated as a special death that requires specialised bereavement support and if not provided it can leave a legacy of trauma for generations. She also stressed the need for treatment services to include family members in addiction treatment, as people accessing treatment are too unwell to assess and engage in their treatment on their own.


In his address, Archbishop Martin spoke of the lack of respect for life within the drug trade with too many young lives lost to drugs. He acknowledged the support that women provide to other women in their grief and the ongoing support given by the NFSN.


For many families, this service was the first time that they could openly grieve for loved ones lost to drug use and related causes. The volume of family support groups was evident, with over 70 support groups from across the island of Ireland represented at this year’s service, a stark reminder that drug-related deaths affect families throughout the whole of Ireland. The NFSN runs a 10-week bereavement programme twice a year and family members can contact the NFSN and avail of assistance from this group.


1  The National Family Support Network can be contacted at 5 Gardiner Row, Dublin 1 on 01 898 0148 or or online

2  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.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Harm reduction
Issue Title
Issue 69, Spring 2019
June 2019
Page Range
p. 28
Health Research Board
Issue 69, Spring 2019

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