Late concessions in bid to secure new drugs strategy

Doubts over the forthcoming launch of the National Drugs Strategy appear to have subsided after community groups secured late concessions in relation to effective implementation structures and actions to tackle alcohol abuse, intimidation and youth disadvantage.

But given continuing uncertainty about the strategy, the community sector has not formally signed off on it — as they were asked to do by the Department of Health.

The high-profile launch of the strategy NDS 2017-2024 at Dublin Castle next Monday could also be hit by protests from west Dublin activists over the way a local drug project is being closed.

Community representatives in Blanchardstown claim the principle of partnership between state and community sector is being undermined in the HSE’s role in the closure of Adapt Community Drugs Team and in how the HSE is redirecting its funding for it.

Meetings are ongoing to try and resolve the row before the launch.

As previously reported in the Irish Examiner, the NDS is moving away from criminalisation to a harm reduction focus. A high-level group is being set up to examine the issue of decriminalisation of drugs and gardaí will examine expanding the adult caution scheme to include drug possession.

An NDS steering group sat for over a year devising the strategy, comprising members from state, voluntary and community sectors.

Last May, the community and voluntary sectors were asked by the Department of Health’s Drug Policy Unit to “sign off” on the final report. They, along with the National Family Support Network (NFSN), user groups and local and regional drug task forces said they were unable to do so, citing four key issues:

  • The lack of an effective national implementation structure which would hold agencies accountable for implementing the NDS.
  • The “reluctance” of the Department of Health to address the alcohol issue within the strategy.
  • The “failure” to tackle social and economic disadvantage in communities — including the lack of “any new actions” to address the “massive” problem of drug-related intimidation.
  • The Government decision to remove, without consultation, the Young People’s Facilities and Services Fund (YPFSF) from the strategy.

A meeting at the end of June was held with community representatives and drugs strategy minister Catherine Byrne. After, the policy unit DPU agreed a standing sub-committee on implementation would be set up, with defined terms of reference and would meet monthly. For the first time, this committee will also have representatives from the family support networkNFSN and user group Uisce.

On alcohol, the DPU said there would be a commitment to “an integrated public health approach to drugs and alcohol”. Alcohol is also included in the strategy subtitle, which it wasn’t before.

There were no more concessions on tackling disadvantage, but the subcommittee is tasked with developing, implementing and monitoring responses on drug- related intimidation “as a matter of priority”.

An evaluation is being conducted on an existing drug intimidation scheme run by gardaí and NFSN.

There was no move to bring the YPFSF back into the strategy but there is an action to develop an unspecified “new scheme” to target young people at risk.


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