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National Drugs Forum


Thank you to all who attended the 2019 Forum on 5 November 2019.

The theme of the forum was Inclusion Health: Responding to the complex health needs of people who use drugs. Minister of State with Responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne TD opened the forum. It began with keynote talks from two experts in the area of Inclusion Health. Forum participants then engaged in a design thinking exercise focusing on a number of scenarios that represen the type of situations faced by services users working in prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, harm reduction or family support services.

Inclusion Health is an emergent approach to policy development, service delivery and research that seeks to explain the impact of inequality and marginalisation on health. It works towards preventing and redressing the health consequences of living as part of a vulnerable and excluded population, which faces barriers in accessing health services This includes people who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness, drug use, imprisonment, sex work or other adverse life experiences that have led to social exclusion and marginalisation.

Health and social interventions designed to improve physical and mental health and treat substance use must look beyond the specific needs of these populations defined by singular risk factors and seek to respond to the multiple and complex needs of socially excluded populations who have common intersecting characteristics and adverse life experiences such as childhood trauma and poverty.

Improved access to essential services for people harmed by exclusion will need better collaboration with the populations concerned. Co-production, which should underpin this collaboration, will also inform a research programme

This year’s forum began with keynote talks from two experts in the area of Inclusion Health.

  • Professor Andrew Hayward is Director of the University College London Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care and is UCL Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Inclusion Health. An important focus of Professor Hayward's work is research on Inclusion Health aiming to highlight the extreme disparities in health faced by homeless people, drug users, sex workers and prisoners and to develop and evaluate effective health services that can meet their needs.
  • Dr Clíona Ní Cheallaigh is an infectious diseases and internal medicine physician in St James’s Hospital, Dublin, and Senior Lecturer in Medical Gerontology. Dr Ní Cheallaigh brings to TILDA clinical and research expertise in immunology, social determinants of health, health equity, and implementation. Her research seeks to look at the effect of socio-economic status/ psychosocial stress on ageing. Dr Ní Cheallaigh is also Clinical Lead of a pilot Inclusion Health Service in St James’s Hospital dedicated to improving access to specialist hospital care for homeless and other marginalized individuals. 

Design thinking

Design thinking is a technique for investigating complex problems. The idea is to reframe ill-defined problems by thinking about the person most effected by the problem and attempting to understand the needs of this person. One approach is to develop a persona with recognisable characteristics and around whom a solution can be developed through brainstorming and creating prototype solutions for testing. 

The task was to discuss the situation that is outlined in the scenario and to work with the other members of the team to design a response to it. The scenario, for example may describe

  • a difficulty somebody has to face as a result of their own drug use or that of a family member.
  • a problem that a service provider or health worker has to deal within in their day-to-day work.
  •  the risk of drug-related harms resulting from a particular life experience or from a particular living, work or study environment. 

For a summary of the 2018 Forum, view this page 

Or read the article by Brian Galvin: National Drugs Forum 2018: reports on workshops. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 68, Winter 2019, pp.4-12