National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol

The NACDA was established in response to the drug problem to assist in our continued need to improve our knowledge and understanding of problem drug use.

The goal of the NACDA is to advise the Government on problem drug use in Ireland in relation to prevalence, prevention consequences and treatment based on our analysis and interpretation of research findings.

National Family Support Network recommended for thos affected by drug use

ISSUE DATE: Wednesday, 4 April 2007

A new report from the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) recommends that a national network of family support groups be established to assist the families of heroin users. The report entitled –The Experiences of Families Seeking Support in Coping with Heroin Use – was launched today (Wednesday, 4 April) by Noel Ahern T.D., Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy.

Launching the report, Minister Ahern said that the families of problem drug users need and deserve support in dealing with the problems that they encounter. The Minister stated that the Government’s commitment in that regard is reflected in Action 108 of the National Drugs Strategy, which was added to the Strategy arising from a Mid-term Review in 2005. Furthermore, he indicated that he is aware that a proposal for the establishment of a broad network of family support groups has been submitted to the National Drugs Strategy Team and that he will consider any such proposal when it comes to him.

"Families of problem drug users can have the potential to be key to the rehabilitative effort. However, they are not always adequately involved in the treatment/rehabilitation of family members. In particular, as many problem drug users live in the family home, I feel that families should be seen as partners in the majority of situations and be centrally involved in the recovery process",

Minister Ahern said. He went on to acknowledge the work being done by family-focused projects supported by Local and Regional Drugs Task Forces with funded provided by him through the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, including through the recent Emerging Needs Fund.

The key findings of the report are as follows:

  • Families lack of information and awareness prevented them from recognising the existence of a drug problem, and their need to take action to address it, in the early stages of problem drug use by a family member;
  • When they did realise that there was a problem, this lack of information, together with a sense of shame, often prevented families from recognising the need for external support leading them to attempting to deal with the problem themselves;
  • When they did begin to seek support from outside agencies, families frequently made their first approach to non-specialist agencies or providers;
  • When they finally did get linked into the specialist services, the ongoing lack of information, the multiplicity of stand alone agencies and the lack of integration across these meant that the task of seeking specialist care and interacting with the specialist agencies sometimes added to, rather than alleviated, the burden of care on families, causing further delays while the problem drug use by their family member became more entrenched;
  • This situation changed for families only when they began to learn about the nature of the problem they were dealing with, about more effective and strategic ways to manage the problem of heroin use and about their need to focus on their own well-being at the same time;
  • There tends to be insufficient acknowledgement within the treatment system of the role of the family in supporting the recovery and the potential role the family could play in reinforcing the work of the treatment centres;
  • When the heroin problem itself was resolved, families often found themselves having to deal with the long term implications (including rearing grandchildren, caring for children with HIV and Hepatitis C, the fear of relapse, unemployment issues and various other problems that can be associated with former problem drug users); and
  • On a positive note, many family members found the time and energy to use the expertise they had acquired over the years to give something back to their communities by becoming involved in peer led family support groups.

Based on the key findings above, the report identifies seven stages of engaging and coping with heroin use that families normally go through: 1) confusion, ignorance and denial; 2) coping alone; 3) desperately seeking help; 4) supported learning; 5) reclaiming the family; 6) supporting recovery; 7) contributing. The family goes through these stages as victim, as carer and as agent of recovery.

Dr Des Corrigan, NACD Chairperson, said that

"despite the breadth of the research, the findings were remarkably consistent. Families from urban, suburban and provincial areas were interviewed for the study and all had similar experiences as well as diverse ones. Whilst the problems that beset families of heroin users in Ireland are similar to those that have been identified in the international research – health, financial, social and familial conflict or difficulties – the way in which they have engaged with the problem is different. This reflects our culture, availability and access to oftentimes fragmented services".

Mairéad Lyons, NACD Director explained that the NACD has made the following recommendations to deal with the issues raised in the report:

  1. Value the role of the family in treatment, rehabilitation and recovery
  2. The needs of the families as victims, carers and agents of change must be recognised and appropriate services/specialist interventions be provided
  3. Information about the range of support services, how to cope etc should be available to all families affected by drug issues. In addition, families should be linked with a key worker and
  4. Establish a national body for family support networks and family support groups and oversee best practice in that regard.

Notes to Editor

About the NACD

The NACD was established in July 2000 to advise the Government in relation to the prevalence, prevention, treatment / rehabilitation and consequences of problem drug use in Ireland, based on the analysis of research findings and information available to it. The NACD is overseeing the delivery of a work programme on the extent, nature, causes and effects of drug use in Ireland. The NACD comprises representatives nominated from relevant agencies and sectors, both statutory and non-statutory. The NACD reports to the Minister of State responsible for the National Drugs Strategy. The NACD has published several reports which are available on the website. Further information can be obtained from the website:

About the Study

The study which was carried out by Dr Carmel Duggan using a qualitative methodology and interviewed 30 families augmented by interviews with a second family member in seven cases. Twenty of the 37 interviewees were female. The families were accessed through family support groups in all areas as well as statutory services in one area. The fieldwork was carried out between August and November 2005. Many of the families have been coping with heroin use in the family for several years, whilst others had more recent experience of it:

  • Ten families problem started over 15 years
  • Four families problem started 10-15 years ago
  • Six families problem started 5-10 years ago
  • Ten families problem started in last 5 years

Three areas were selected to provide information from an urban, sub urban and provincial perspective. The urban area represented a Dublin inner city area covering three neighbourhoods and with a concentrated and long-term incidence of heroin use. The suburban area covered a number of neighbourhoods in the outskirts of Dublin and straddling two counties where heroin use is extensive and long established. The third area included a number of provincial towns and their rural and semi-rural hinterlands experiencing more recent but considerable levels of problem drug use.


Pat Montague, Montague Communications, 01-8303116 or 087-2549123
David Gibney, Montague Communications, 01-8303116 or 087-7992480


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