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.

Greater access to harm reduction services for drug users is needed

27th May 2004

Mr Noel Ahern, TD, Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drug Strategy today (Thursday 27th May 2004) launched a new report from the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD), entitled A Review of Harm Reduction Approaches in Ireland and Evidence from the International Literature. The report concluded that there is significant scope to expand the role of drug services in delivering flexible and responsive initiatives to target shared use of equipment amongst drug users. The Report also points out that restricted opening hours and limited numbers of needle exchange services may actually contribute to the sharing of equipment, leading to further health risks.

The Review and the associated research, which was completed by a team from Dublin City University, found that all routes of drug administration that require the use of equipment increase the risk of transmission of HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C Virus. The research also found that:

  • Harm reduction messages need to highlight risks of sharing any equipment such as spoons, water, filters as well as needles and syringes and promote safer ways of using drugs;
  • Sharing of equipment occurs where access to harm reduction services is limited, poor or not available; and
  • Those at greater risk of infection are young drugs users, those with a shorter injecting history and those in an intimate relationship with another injecting drug user.

Launching the Report, Minister Noel Ahern said that “harm reduction approaches rightly form an important part of Irish drug policy and clearly they can make a significant and on-going contribution to the health of drug misusers. This new research and analysis from the NACD is very welcome and will be used to inform future policy developments in this area”.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Dr Des Corrigan, NACD Chairperson said “whilst it is clear that a key aim of the Irish National Drugs Strategy is to reduce the demand for drugs and to prevent people taking drugs in the first place, we must face the reality that many people take drugs and thus face risks to their health. As patterns of drug use change, new ways of administering drugs and new drug preferences emerge, we need to be ever more vigilant in how we communicate with drug users about minimising harm to their health.”

Arising from their analysis of the research, the NACD is making a number of recommendations to Government, namely that:

  • Needle exchange services should be significantly expanded on a countrywide basis, should operate outside normal working hours and at weekends;
  • Harm reduction services should be able to cater for the provision of a range of drug-taking equipment;
  • Alternative approaches such as community pharmacy needle exchange could be developed with appropriate consultation;
  • There should be enhanced training for service providers;
  • Service provision for drug users in prison should mirror the range of treatment and harm reduction approaches, which are available in the community; and
  • There should be on-going monitoring of the research in the area of supervised drug consumption rooms given that the review found that the evidence of their effectiveness is inconclusive.

Mairéad Lyons, Director of the NACD, commenting on the report said “it is obvious that comprehensive harm reduction programmes should aim to minimise the sharing of all drug-taking equipment as there is strong evidence to show that non-injecting equipment, such as spoons, syringes, and water containers, are also associated with increased risk of contracting diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

Notes to the Editor

  1. Harm reduction is a concept aiming to prevent or reduce negative health consequences associated with certain behaviours. In relation to drug misuse, harm-reduction aims to prevent transmission of HIV and other infections that occur through sharing of drugs and non-sterile drug taking equipment.
  2. This research was commissioned by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) and carried out by a team from Dublin City University, the study looked at mechanisms to minimise the sharing of equipment among drug users as a harm reduction approach. The research was completed between late 2002 and early 2003.
  3. In undertaking this research, DCU reviewed the international literature on harm reduction and Irish reports documenting strategies on harm reduction. Finally, to gain insight into Irish service delivery, interviews were carried out with key personnel in Irish health services about harm reduction in their service.


For further information, please contact:
Pat Montague, Montague Communications, 01-8377960 or 087-2549123

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