Policy and Practice in Ireland

The Irish National Drug Strategy (2009-2016) aims to reduce the harm that drugs cause to the individual, their family, community and society. The Department of Health is the key policy driver. There has been a major shift in drug use over the last decade to poly-drug use involving various combinations of heroin, cocaine, cannabis, benzodiazepines and crack. Alcohol abuse, which significantly exceeds the OECD average, is also a substantial problem and Ireland is now merging its alcohol and drugs responses.


Ireland has comprehensive structures to ensure that its drug and alcohol policy is implemented. These are overseen by the Department of Health which hosts the Oversight Forum on Drugs (OFD). The forum is chaired quarterly by the Minister for Health. Ireland has dedicated addiction services run by the Health Service Executive. There are also 14 local and 10 regional multi-sectoral drug task forces located in areas with significant drug problems. The community and voluntary sectors also play a significant role, and like the state services, provide methadone and needle exchanges, detox, residential treatment, aftercare and day programmes.

A rehabilitation framework is in place to implement a bio-psychosocial response to addiction. This response addresses the medical, psychological and social needs of the individual and takes account of the debilitating personal and social consequences of addiction.

Employment, education and housing

Employment rates for recovering drug users in treatment dramatically contracted in recent years. In 2005, 21.8% of recovering drug users were employed. By 2010, this had fallen to 9.1% . This situation can only have deteriorated further with the collapse of the Irish economy and the introduction of austerity policies from 2008 onwards.

The main rehabilitation programme intervention in the jobs arena is the Community Employment Scheme, which combines an educational component with limited job experience. Uptake by recovering drug users, particularly women, has declined, however, due to cuts in benefits. The cutbacks mean that recovering drug users now have to pay for childcare if they want to access a Community Employment Scheme. Ireland also has a major housing problem characterised by a lack of accommodation. All these represent significant barriers to the social reintegration for recovering drug users.


There is now an emerging conversation in Ireland about recovery, specifically on how to build the individual’s ability to sustain a drug-free lifestyle by focusing on their strengths and combining this with access to existing community assets, such as fellowships, family, and social, recreational and educational options.


1 European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, 2012-p 35: Insights: Social Reintegration and Employment: Evidence and interventions for drug users in treatment. Or web page http://www.emcdda.europe.eu/publications/insights/social-reintegration