Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery: a health led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025 was recently published by Minister of State for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne TD. 

The strategy is welcome, its vision of along with 50 action points, provide clarity on the initiatives that will be undertaken over the next three years, and direction for the next eight years. Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery demonstrates the diversity of approaches required to address the complex issue of substance misuse in Ireland, and recognises that behaviour change is complex, challenging and takes time.  Its five goals require a broad range of approaches, and the detail within the strategy complements the legislative measures – specifically the Public Health Alcohol Bill – that are expected to become law before the end of the year.  Working together, this legislation and policy approach should reduce our levels of alcohol misuse, which – with more than 50% of the population drinking harmfully based on the internationally recognised AUDIT-C score – remains far too high.The five goals are:

  1. Promoting and protecting health and wellbeing.
  2. Minimising the harms caused by the use and misuse of substances and promoting rehabilitation and recovery.
  3. Addressing the harms of drug markets and reducing access to drugs for harmful use.
  4. Supporting participation of individuals, families and communities.
  5. Developing sound and comprehensive evidence-informed policies and actions.

From Drinkaware’s point of view, our goal to increase the age of first drink is mirrored in the strategy’s objective to delay children and young people using alcohol.  Its recognition that “substance misuse prevention strategies targeting families, schools and communities are an effective way of promoting health and wellbeing among the general population and result in wider benefits for society in terms of savings in future health, social and crime costs” is welcome. We are encouraged by the acknowledgement that “education and awareness programmes that are delivered alongside other measures, which build the lifeskills and confidence necessary to support positive behaviours and choices, are more likely to be effective in encouraging protective and healthy behaviour than stand-alone measures.” The commitment to host a yearly national forum on evidence-based and effective practice on drug and alcohol education is a welcome opportunity to share learning and insight in an open way, and one Drinkaware looks forward to being part of.

We know that alcohol misuse is a complex problem that requires a joined-up approach with Government, health providers, NGOs, communities and families all playing a role.  The new strategy recognises that, and takes steps to outline these various roles, and how Government will support them.  To fundamentally and permanently change attitudes and behaviours relating to alcohol in Ireland is an enormous task, the publication of this strategy is an important step.