Launch of the report of the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group

07 February 2012

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer and Chairman of the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group, today, 7th February, 2012, launched the Report of the Group. The focus of the Steering Group was on alcohol and it was charged with identifying actions that could be used to deal with the harms caused by alcohol use and misuse.

The Steering Group was drawn from relevant Departments and agencies, medical professional bodies, the community and voluntary sectors and the alcohol industry. Its report is a roadmap for the future direction of policy to deal with the use and misuse of alcohol.

Some of the key recommendations of the Group include:

The Steering Group adopted a population-based approach to its work as such an approach benefits those who are not in regular contact with the health services and those who have not been specifically advised to reduce their alcohol intake.

“The harms from alcohol use and misuse are significant”. said Dr Holohan “For example, alcohol was responsible for at least 88 deaths every month in 2008. It was a contributory factor in half of all suicides and deliberate self-harm, is associated with 2,000 beds being occupied every night in Irish hospitals and related illness cost the health care system €1.2 billion in 2007 with alcohol-related crime costing an estimated €1.19 billion in the same year.”

“The human cost of alcohol use and misuse is too stark to ignore”, continued Dr Holohan “and the Steering Group made 45 recommendations to tackle the harm caused to individuals and society from alcohol use and misuse”.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that alcohol interventions targeted at vulnerable groups can prevent alcohol harm but that policies targeted at the whole population, while having a protective effect on vulnerable populations, also reduce the overall level of alcohol problems. It also helps prevent people from drinking harmful or hazardous quantities of alcohol in the first place.” said Dr Holohan. “After all, Irish adults drink in a more dangerous way than any other country. In effect, 1.5 million Irish drinkers drink in a harmful pattern and this needs to be addressed”

“The Steering Group took note of the shift in the pattern of alcohol purchasing from the pub to the off-licence sector, and to supermarkets in particular: We can’t ignore the impact of this on alcohol consumption given that there was a 161 per cent increase in the number of off-licences operating between 1998 and 2010 and over the same time period the number of pub licences decreased by 19 per cent”, declared Dr Holohan.

The Report may be downloaded at www.doh.ie. A list of all recommendations of the Steering Group is in Chapter 7 of the Report; in addition, the FAQ document summarises the recommendations.

Commenting on the launch, Minister Reilly said: “I am very pleased that the Steering Group have launched their report. The report provides a comprehensive and structured approach to dealing with the problems and harms caused by alcohol use and misuse; and in particular it specifies measures to reduce the availability of cheap alcohol. I also want to thank the Chairman and all members of the Steering Group”, added the Minister. “Their hard work and perseverance in getting the report finished is to be commended”.

Minister of State with responsibility for Primary Care and Drugs Strategy Róisín Shortall stated: “I welcome the launch of this report. It’s a report that is strong on its research and evidence base; comprehensive in its analysis; and specific on recommendations to deal with the issue of alcohol. It will serve as a platform for a public debate on the problems of alcohol use and misuse; and in this regard I will be presenting the report to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health. I wish to express my thanks to the Chairman and members of the Steering Group for all of their time and effort in writing the report”

At the launch, Mr Rolande Anderson, the former National alcohol project Director for the ICGP (Irish College of General Practitioners) and who served on the committee as the ICGP representative throughout its deliberations stated "the strategy was expertly chaired and efficiently run. Many of the recommendations will, when implemented, make a serious dent in our national alcohol problem and most importantly benefit individuals and communities.”

Meanwhile, Dr Eamon Keenan, Consultant Psychiatrist in Substance Misuse and who represented the College of Psychiatry of Ireland on the Steering Group said: “I welcome the publication of the Government's National Substance Misuse Strategy Report. I believe that this report will greatly assist treatment services to develop appropriate interventions for individuals suffering from alcohol related problems.”

Tony Geoghegan from the voluntary sector and who is Chief Executive Officer of Merchant's Quay Ireland declared: "The National Voluntary Drug and Alcohol Service Providers warmly welcome the publication of the Report of the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group. Alcohol, like all drugs, if misused has a huge potential for harm to the individual, their families, the community and society as a whole."

Ms Fiona Ryan – Director of Alcohol Action Ireland and Steering Group member – referred to impact the recommendations would have: “Alcohol Action Ireland has campaigned for recognition of children affected by parental alcohol problems which affect as many as one in 11 children in Ireland”, added Fiona. “One in seven children in care in Ireland are there primarily because of parental substance misuse and this is liable to be an under-estimation. This strategy recognises these children, the challenges they and their families face and the right of these children to be seen and heard by State services.”

Dr Joe Barry, Clinical Professor in Public Health Medicine and Head of the Department of Public Health and Primary Care (TCD) and member of the Steering Group said “The introduction of a social responsibility levy on the alcohol industry will help meet the considerable cost to the Irish health service from alcohol related harms.”

Dr Declan Bedford, Specialist in Public Health Medicine from the IMO said: "As a nation we drink too much alcohol and this has resulted in a huge burden of health and social harms. The level of alcohol related harm across the whole of our society is such that it demands the implementation of the recommendations in this report”

(A list of all recommendations of the Steering Group is in Chapter 7 of the Report.)

Read the report of the Steering Group