Restrictions on social interaction, the requirement for self-isolation and the restructuring of services, are particularly difficult for those accessing drug and alcohol services and supports.
I am fully aware of the vital role played by drug, alcohol support groups and treatment programmes in reducing the harms of substance use and supporting rehabilitation and recovery. They help individuals to build their recovery capital and to avoid relapse into harmful patterns of substance use.
Earlier this week I published new guidance for drug and alcohol support groups and treatment programmes and other addiction treatment services. This new guidance will ensure that these groups can operate safely, including at levels 3 and 4 of the national framework for living with Covid-19.
The guidance is available on the Government of Ireland website at: www.gov.ie/en/policy-information/17d32f-drugs-and-alcohol-policy/.
The main points of the guidance are as follows:
1. It is recommended to hold meetings and deliver programmes online or outdoors where this is possible, without diluting the benefits for participants
2. Where it is decided to host a face-to-face group/programme meeting, organisers are advised to undertake a risk assessment to ensure the health, welfare and safety of participants
3. Facilities used to host support groups and treatment programmes should be for exclusive use, where possible, and not shared with other users
4. The recommended maximum number of attendees at level 3 is 15 people (including leaders), with 2 metres social distancing
5. Support groups and programmes should last a maximum of 115 minutes (1 hour and 45 minutes)
6. Individuals at higher risk from Covid-19, or in close contact with such individuals, should only attend meetings that are conducted online.
I want to acknowledge the input of supports groups and service providers in the formulation of this new guidance. We all share a common goal for the safe resumption of recovery support groups.