Ireland’s most recent National Drugs Strategy – Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery – A health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017 to 2025 – was published by the Department of Health on 17th July 2017 and launched by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD, Minister for Health Simon Harris TD, and Catherine Byrne TD, Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy.
The strategy sets out the Government’s plan of action to address the harm caused by substance misuse in our society. The strategy advocates a harm reduction approach, places greater emphasis on supporting a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland, and is strongly linked with the over-arching context of the Healthy Ireland Framework to contribute towards improving the health and wellbeing of the population of Ireland.
Five strategic goals have been identified to realise the vision of the strategy, and strategic actions to be achieved associated with the HIV response nationally are included in Goal 1 – Promoting and protecting health and wellbeing and Goal 2 – Minimising the harms caused by the use and misuse of substances:
- Continue to expand Harm Reduction Initiatives focused on people who inject drugs including expanding needle exchange programmes, increasing the availability of screening and treatment for blood borne viruses and communicable diseases, and increasing the uptake of hepatitis C treatment.
- Strengthen early harm reduction responses to current and emerging trends and patterns of drug use (including chemsex).
- Improve the capacity of services to accommodate the needs of people who use drugs and alcohol from specific communities including the Traveller community, the LGBTI community, new communities, sex workers, and homeless people; and consider the need for specialist referral pathways for specific groups who may not otherwise attend traditional addiction services (i.e. those who engage in chemsex).
- Establish a pilot supervised injecting facility and evaluate the effectiveness of the initiative.
HIV Ireland sent a written submission to the development of this new National Drugs Strategy in October 2016. Key recommendations made by HIV Ireland included prioritising HIV prevention and education, increasing access to, and the availability of, HIV testing, aligning actions with other relevant national policies and strategies, developing harm reduction approaches/initiatives to minimise HIV risks associated with chemsex and the use of new psychoactive substances, increasing access to, and the availability of, free condoms, and ensuring the inclusion of drug users when reviewing existing and/or developing new initiatives.
HIV Ireland works closely with the NICDATF to ensure that HIV prevention and education remains a priority focus when working with drug users and when developing policy frameworks.
HIV Ireland currently receives annual funding from the NICDATF to provide HIV prevention education and training, and related services, within Dublin’s north inner city and surrounding areas.
HIV Ireland is a member of the NICDATF sub-committee on Prevention and Education. In recent years this sub-committee has been involved in a number of initiatives including organising youth conventions and hosting seminars. In June 2018, a report of the 2017 forum was published and launched by the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD. Let’s Get Specific was a follow-up to a previous round-table discussion involving a number of key projects working with youth on substance misuse issues, and sought to further explore how the drug problem is being experienced in communities. The report reflects the input of the attendees at the forum and has a number of recommendations including working with the Department of Education to enhance and support the teaching of SPHE, addressing funding reductions, supporting the development of youth-friendly educational materials and building a stronger evidence base to show the impact of substance misuse education.
The aim of the National Chemsex Working Group is to collaborate with stakeholders working to address issues related to the sexualised use of drugs amongst the gbMSM population.
The MPOWER Programme Manager represents HIV Ireland on this group, which also includes representation from the HSE National Drug Treatment Centre, the Rialto Community Drug Team, the Gay Men’s Health Service, HSE National Social Inclusion, HSE Public Health and HSE Addiction Services.
In 2019, the work of this collaborative partnership was presented (oral and poster presentations) at a range of conferences including the College of Psychiatrists Ireland Spring Conference in April (winning Best Poster Presentation), the Club Health Conference in Amsterdam in May, the AIDS Impact Conference in London in July, the Lisbon Addictions Conference in October, and the European Chemsex Forum in Paris in November.
In 2018 the group published GHB harm reduction resources, and presented on its collaborative work at conferences and seminars including the IUSTI Congress in June, the National Drugs Forum in November, the SSSTDI Autumn Meeting in November, and at the National Forum on Integrated Care in Ireland in December.