The Department of Health published the mid-term review of the actions in the national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm Supporting Recovery, on the 17th November. It shows significant progress in implementing the action plan for the period 2017 to 2020, with only a small number of the 50 actions outstanding. It also examined the effectiveness of government expenditure on the national drugs strategy, based on key indicators. It estimated the significant costs for society of drug use for the criminal justice system and the economy. The mid-term review was informed extensive stakeholder engagement, the results of the national drug and alcohol survey for 2019-2020 and findings of a rapid assessment on the impact of Covid-19 on drug and alcohol services.
The Department undertook considerable engagement with stakeholders, including community organisations, voluntary drug and alcohol service providers, and drug and alcohol task forces as part of the Mid Term Review. Written submissions were requested in advance of stakeholder consultation meetings, and following these consultations written reports were circulated to ensure accuracy. The learning from the engagements formed a considerable section of the review, and input into the subsequent proposed changes. The National Oversight Committee received regular updates on the progress of the review, and also had opportunity to discuss the draft documentation. Stakeholders were very supportive of the conclusions of the mid-term review.
The national drugs strategy covers the period 2017-2025. It is a dynamic process and there is flexibility to introduce new measures to address emerging issues in the period 2021-2025. Based on the learning from the mid-term review, six strategic priorities for the national drugs strategy for 2021-2025 were identified. These priorities strengthen the health-led approach, reflect commitments in the Programme for Government and align with the EU drugs strategy and action plan 2021-2025.
These priorities complement and build on the five goals in the national drugs strategy. The inter-agency approach involving a partnership between statutory, community and voluntary bodies remains central to the strategy, as does strengthening the resilience of communities to respond to the drug problem.
One of the new strategic priorities is to address the social determinants and consequences for drug use in disadvantaged communities. This priority recognises the additional challenges arising from drug use in disadvantaged communities, including the Traveller community. It will address the underlying social and economic determinants that increase the prevalence of problematic drug and alcohol use in certain communities. It will also tackle the criminality and anti-social behaviour associated with the drug trade that impose a heavy burden on poor communities. These issues require action across government to promote community development and community safety. Ensuring synergy with the Sláintecare Healthy Communities programme to address health inequalities will be a key objective. A range of government departments and programmes will contribute to this strategic priority, as will the work of the drug and alcohol task forces and community drug projects.
Supporting these strategic priorities are a number of horizontal themes:
- involvement of service users in the design and delivery of services based on a human rights perspective and the promotion of health literacy
- active and meaningful participation of civil society in the development, implementation and evaluation of policies and services
- good governance, accountability and mutual respect by all partners and
- cross-sectoral funding and the targeting of additional resources.
The oversight structures have been revised to drive the implementation of the strategic priorities for 2021-2025. I believe that the new structures will strengthen the partnership approach and give a stronger voice to civil society in developing national policy. I am also providing independent leadership to ensure the accountability of all stakeholders and involving service users to provide insights from the lived experience of drug and alcohol addiction.