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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.

Report of Interim Advisory Committee on Drugs

Author: Interim Advisory Committee on Drugs

Published: February 2000

Summary of Report

The Interim Advisory Committee on Drugs preceded the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) and this report formed the basis for the establishment of the NACD.


Executive Summary

Establishment of an Interim Advisory Committee

Approach

Adopted by the Committee

Environment in which Drugs Policy is formulated
National Drugs Strategy: Overview Structures involved in the formulation and implementation of the StrategyReview of the National Drugs Strategy

Existing information sets and research capacity
Sources of information and research capacity
Findings in relation to research and information

Information gaps and priority information needs
Information gaps
Priority policy information needs

Three year programme of research
Reporting framework
Centralisation of data and location of national database
Quality control
Data collection

Role, structure and composition of Advisory Committee
Role of the new Advisory Committee
Status of the National Advisory Committee
Structure of National Advisory Committee
Composition and Chair of Committee

Recommendations


Executive Summary

Implementing and Co-ordinating the National Drugs Strategy
The Nation Strateal Drugsgy aims to provide an effective, integrated response to the problem, to deliver its programmes and services in a coherent integrated manner and to involve communities experiencing the highest levels of problem drug use in the design and delivery of such programmes and services.

The Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion, chaired by the Taoiseach, drives a comprehensive social inclusion programme which addresses all aspects of social and economic disadvantage, including problem drug use. A Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Mr. Eoin Ryan, T.D., has special responsibility for the co-ordination of the National Drugs Strategy and reports to the Committee on drug issues (see Appendix A for details of the Cabinet Committee's membership).

A National Drugs Strategy Team (NDST) - comprising representatives from the statutory, voluntary and community sectors - works closely with the Minister of State and an Interdepartmental Group (IDG) of senior civil servants in overseeing the effective implementation of the National Drugs Strategy and reviewing policy on issues which may arise (see Appendix A for details of the membership of the IDG and NDST). Local Drugs Task Forces have been set up in the fourteen areas around the country experiencing the worst effects of problem drug use, in particular heroin. Membership of these Task Forces allows the State Agencies to work closely with community and voluntary groups in devising and implementing strategies for tackling the drug problem which best meet the local circumstances of the respective Task Force area.

Outside these areas, the Health Boards have appointed drugs co-ordinators to develop appropriate programmes and services. They have also been asked to establish regional co-ordinating structures, again based on partnership principles, to ensure that the response to problem drug use in their areas is comprehensive and co-ordinated.

National and local structures put in place to administer the Young People's Facilities and Services Fund, launched by the Government in 1998, also involve a partnership between the statutory, voluntary and community sectors. The Fund targets young people in disadvantaged areas where a significant drug problem exists or has the potential to develop, including all Task Force areas. Its aim is to offer young people healthier and more life enhancing alternatives to substance misuse by providing facilities and services for those young people most at risk.

Research and Information.

To support and complement the above structures the Government has established, initially on an interim basis, a National Advisory Committee (NAC) which will provide advice based on authoritative information and research findings as a guide to policy in the drugs area. Such information and evaluation should inform future national strategy on drugs, and reflect the different perspectives which, in a complementary fashion, provide insights into the problem. In order to generate maximum commitment to the ideal of a comprehensive and integrated approach to information and research, including evaluation, the Cabinet Committee in establishing the Committee charged it in its Terms of Reference with, inter alia, making recommendations on the structure and composition of the NAC (see Chapter 1).

Conclusions

The Interim Committee interpreted its brief as requiring it to consider how the existing environment in which research and information is collected and assimilated could be improved to facilitate the work of the NAC and then, to identify a role, structure and composition for the body. It was specifically requested to set out priority policy information needs and recommend a 3 year programme of research, the delivery of which would be overseen by the NAC. In implementing its brief, the Committee was asked to ensure the most effective use of resources in all aspects of information gathering and analysis with respect to drug misuse.

The environment in which research and information is collected and assimilated was examined and a substantive, though not exhaustive, review of existing research and information sets and of existing research capacity was undertaken. The Committee was satisfied that a more exhaustive inventory of research and information sets was needed and recommended that this task should be undertaken as a matter of priority.

From the initial review undertaken it was apparent to the Committee that considerable research capacity exists and that an exhaustive volume and range of data and information resides with many bodies. Significant data is being collected on an ongoing basis by the relevant Agencies and Bodies involved in the development and implementation of the National Drugs Strategy and wider Social Inclusion Policies. However, the data collected is not being centralised or made readily accessible. In addition the Community and Voluntary sectors have a range of documented information and expertise available to them which the Committee believes could be more fully exploited (see Chapter 4).

The Committee concluded that :

  • A more focused and integrated approach to the collection and assimilation of data is needed. This should involve the designation of a central point and the establishment of a central database on problem drug use to which all research data and information is channelled or its existence notified so that it can be accessed by policy makers and various other interested parties;
  • More effective systems for collecting information and research are needed which will facilitate the centralisation of data and allow for a co-ordinated approach in the commissioning of research which will have regard to policy needs ;
  • The Agencies and Bodies operating in the Drugs area need to be encouraged and supported to ensure that data collection and reporting become part of everyday practice ;
  • There is a need for a more consistent standardised approach to the preparation of reports and the presentation of data which makes it comparable and more easily assimilated ; and
  • There is a need to ensure that recognised methodologies are used in the collection and interpretation of data to avoid erroneous conclusions being drawn from research findings (see Chapter 4).

Recommendations

In the light of these conclusions the Committee made a series of recommendations on the collection and assimilation of data and on the role and functions which a National Advisory Committee should play. The Committee also identified information gaps and a 3 year programme (see Chapters 5 and 6).

In relation to the National Advisory Committee itself, they concluded, having regard to: i) the existing structures in place for the formulation of drugs policy within which it will operate; ii) their own findings and recommendations in relation to the collection and assimilation of research and information as set out above; and iii) their Terms of Reference which included asking the Committee to ensure the most effective use of resources, that its future structure and status should be modelled on the National Crime Council which was established in 1999 by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (see Chapter 8).

Accordingly the Committee recommended that:

  • Structure
  • The National Advisory Committee on Drugs should be established by, and report to, the Minister with lead responsibility for the co-ordination of the National Drugs Strategy;
  • To allow the Committee to settle into its role, develop a track record and establish its credibility, it should be established initially on a non-statutory basis, the matter to be reviewed after a 3 year period, with a view to establishing it on a statutory basis;
  • The membership of the Committee should reflect the statutory, community, voluntary, academic and research interests represented on the Interim Committee together with representation, at a senior level, from the relevant Government Departments to ensure that information and evaluation reflects different perspectives of the topic;
  • The chairperson should have a wide-ranging knowledge of the various elements of drugs policy and a clear appreciation of the roles of the statutory, community and voluntary sectors in the formulation and implementation of that policy. It would be desirable, though not essential to also have an understanding of research and related matters to facilitate the effective operation of the Committee and, in particular, its relationship with the various interests in the drugs area;
  • The National Crime Council should be used as the model for the management structure and as a reference in determining the level of resources to be provided for the new Committee while having regard for the more extensive brief of the latter. (See Chapter 8)
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Functions

  • To advise the Government in relation to the prevalence, prevention, treatment and consequences of problem drug use in Ireland, based on the Committee's analysis and interpretation of research findings and information available to it;
  • To review current information sets and research capacity in relation to the prevalence, prevention, treatment and consequences of problem drug use in Ireland and to make recommendations as appropriate on how deficits should be addressed including how to maximise the use of information available from the Community and Voluntary Sector;
  • To oversee the delivery of the three year prioritised programme of research and evaluation which meets the gaps and priority needs identified by:
    • using the capacity of relevant agencies engaged in information gathering and research, both statutory and non-statutory to deliver on elements of the programme;
    • liaising with these agencies with a view to maximising the resources allocated to delivering the programme and avoiding duplication;
    • co-ordinating and advising on research projects in the light of the prioritised programme;
    • commissioning research projects which cannot be met through existing capacity;
  • To commission additional research at the request of the Government into drug issues of relevance to policy;
  • To work closely with the Health Research Board (HRB) on the establishment of a national information/research database (in relation to prevalence, prevention, treatment and consequences of problem drug use) which is easily accessible;
  • To advise relevant Agencies with a remit to promote greater public awareness of the issues arising in relation to problem drug use and to promote and encourage informed debate through the dissemination of its research findings. (See Chapter 8)
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Collection and Assimilation of Data

  • To achieve a more focused integrated approach to the collection and assimilation of data, a central point should be designated which would involve the establishment of a national database to which research data, evaluation reports, and information should be channelled or, as appropriate, its existence notified and recorded in a way which facilitates ease of retrieval by policy makers and other interested parties;
  • To work towards this objective the Drug Misuse Research Division (DMRD) of the HRB should be designated as the central point and should be given the necessary resources to expand its existing role in relation to the development of a national database. The National Advisory Committee should work closely with the HRB to put in place an effective mechanism which would make existing data available and accessible;
  • The HRB should be given a role to develop guidelines, in consultation with other relevant bodies (including the EMCDDA, Combat Poverty Agency, etc) and the NAC, which could be used to promote best practice in the area of research. There should be an onus on any agency, organisation or group seeking State funding to undertake research to consult with the NAC with a view to taking account of any such guidelines in preparing their research proposals. To cover other cases, where there is no state funding involved, the guidelines setting out best practice should be promulgated as widely as possible emphasising the benefits of their use;
  • To facilitate better collection and reporting of data:
    • A more integrated and co-ordinated approach to the collection of data should be promoted.
    • A more consistent approach to the preparation of reports and evaluation of initiatives should be encouraged.
    • An information and data collection element should be included and supported in all projects where State funding is being provided.
    • A person should be designated at local level to report on more general information coming to hand, such as for example, emerging patterns in problem drug use. A simple standard type questionnaire could also be used as a means of accessing this information but such a questionnaire would have to be carefully designed to ensure that it met the required needs. Any such mechanism would need to take account of, and link in with, the informal Early Warning System, which involves the Departments of Health and Children, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the DMRD of the HRB, the Garda Siochana, the State Laboratory and the Forensic Science Laboratory, in the assessment of risks in new synthetic drugs. (See Chapter 7)
      Chapter 1

Establishment of an Interim Advisory Committee

The Government, through the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion and through the Minister of State with responsibility for the Drugs Initiative, has publicly expressed a commitment to the establishment of a National Advisory Committee on Drugs on a number of occasions. The Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion recognised the value of authoritative information and research findings as a guide to policy in this area. It recognised, in particular, that information and evaluation required to inform a comprehensive national strategy on drugs must reflect the different perspectives which, in a complementary fashion, provide insights into the drugs problem. It follows that the information analyses and research carried out should be informed by those expert in the health dimension of drugs, including clinical and epidemiological studies; those involved in the delivery of services, in both the statutory and non-statutory sectors; those directly affected by the drug problem in the community; those concerned with the development and analysis of social policy and community development strategies from an academic perspective; and those engaged in the development and implementation of strategy at national level.

In order to generate maximum commitment to the ideal of a comprehensive and integrated approach to information and research, including evaluation, the Cabinet Committee decided to establish the National Advisory Committee on an interim basis, initially. The persons appointed to this Interim Committee were selected on the basis of their personal interest and expertise in drug related programmes / activities and taking account of the variety of interests and backgrounds relevant to the project. The aim was to take account of existing activities in the area of problem drug use and how they inform policy, highlight obvious gaps and develop a multi-annual programme of work to be carried out in a manner which maximises the benefit of existing resources. In pursuance of this aim the Interim Committee were given the following Terms of Reference.

Terms of Reference

  1. To identify current information sets and research capacity in relation to the prevalence, prevention, treatment and consequences of drug misuse in Ireland;
  2. To specify priority information requirements for policy, both in respect of baseline data and ongoing monitoring;
  3. To propose a reporting framework in which information from statutory services, voluntary bodies and community groups can be gathered, analysed and interpreted;
  4. To review international co-operation with regard to information and research on all aspects of drug misuse;
  5. To identify mechanisms for ensuring the most effective use of resources in all aspects of information gathering and analysis with respect to drug misuse;
  6. To recommend a prioritised three year programme of research and evaluation on the extent, nature, causes and effects of drug misuse in Ireland, identifying the contribution to be made by all the relevant interests;
  7. In the light of this programme, to recommend a structure and composition for a National Advisory Committee which would have continuing responsibility for research and information on drug misuse in Ireland.

Minister of State Mr. Chris Flood T.D. announced the establishment of the Interim Advisory Committee on Drugs on the 15th of July 1999.

The membership of the Committee, which was also chaired by the Minister of State, Mr. Chris Flood, T.D. and his successor Mr. Eoin Ryan, T.D., is set out hereunder.

Chairperson Minister of State Chris Flood, T.D / Minister of State Eoin Ryan, T.D.

Academics

Dr.Shane Butler, Trinity College Dublin
Ms. June Meehan, Combat Poverty Agency
Mr. Andrew Fraser, Researcher/Consultant Community/ Policy
Dr. Des Corrigan, Trinity College and Local Drugs Task Force
Mr. Jimmy Duggan, National Drugs Strategy Team
Fr. Sean Cassin, National Drugs Strategy Team
Ms. Anna Quigley, Citywide
Fr. Liam O'Brien, Community Addiction Response Programme

Education

Ms. Ruby Morrow , Senior Psychologist Health
Dr. Brion Sweeney, Eastern Health Board / Trinity Court
Dr. Ruth Barrington, Health Research Board Justice
Mr. Kieran O'Dwyer, Garda Research Unit
Superintendent Barry O' Brien, Garda National Drugs Unit Service

Providers

Mr. Jimmy Connolly, Institute of Associated Addiction Counsellors & Midland Health Board
Ms. Mary Helen McCann, Director Ballymun Youth Project
Mr. Gary Broderick, Director Ana Liffey Drug Project


Approach adopted by the Interim Committee

Although not explicitly stated, the Committee chose to interpret its brief as also requiring it to initially landscape the environment in which a future National Advisory Committee would operate and to make recommendations as to how the best use of resources in all aspects of information gathering and analysis might be secured including the implications vis-à-vis existing bodies and agencies operating in the field.

The Committee was also required to recommend a three year prioritised programme of research and evaluation on the extent, nature, causes and effects of problem drug use in Ireland, identifying the contribution to be made by all the relevant interests and in the light of that programme to recommend a structure and composition for a National Advisory Committee.

The Committee met on 8 occasions, commencing on 28 July 1999. It worked on the basis of discussion documents prepared by the Secretariat which were based on written submissions by the various members and on the ongoing deliberations of the Committee.

In drafting this report, the term "problem drug use" was used where possible in recognition of the sensitivities, particularly of those directly affected, in relation to the terminology used to describe the problem.


Environment in which Drugs Policy is formulated

The overall objective is to ensure that policy on problem drug use is informed by and reflects the different perspectives which provide an insight into the problem. In defining the role of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs it is necessary to consider initially the objectives of the National Drugs Strategy and the contextual framework in which the Committee will operate in informing Drugs policy formulation. In this regard the overall aims and objectives of the National Drugs Strategy and the Structures already in place involved in the formulation and implementation of Drugs Policy are set out hereunder.

3.1 National Drugs Strategy: Overview

The overall aim of the Government's drugs strategy is to provide an effective, integrated response to the problems posed by problem drug use. Three basic principles underpin the strategy.

Firstly, the response to the drug problem must take account of the different patterns of problem drug use which are being experienced around the country. While illicit drug misuse is a nation-wide phenomenon, particularly drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy, problem heroin use - in view of its public health implications and close association with crime - is currently the most pressing aspect of the problem and consequently the primary focus of the National Drugs Strategy has been on the areas experiencing the highest levels of problem heroin use.

Secondly, there is a need to ensure that all programmes and services which respond to the drug problem are delivered in a coherent, integrated manner. Thirdly, communities experiencing the highest levels of problem drug use must participate in the design and delivery of the response to the problem in their areas.

Arising from these principles, the key objectives of the strategy can be described as follows:

  • To reduce through comprehensive education and prevention programmes the number of people turning to drugs in the first instance;
  • To provide appropriate treatment and aftercare for those dependent on drugs;
  • To have appropriate mechanisms in place at national and local level aimed at reducing the supply of illicit drugs; and
  • To ensure that an appropriate level of accurate and timely information is available to inform the response to the problem.

Considerable resources are being put into the effort to combat the supply and demand for illicit drugs by a range of Government Departments, State Agencies and the Community and Voluntary Sector. The structures in place to formulate and implement policy in the illicit drugs area reflect the cross-cutting nature of the issue.

Structures involved in the formulation and implementation of the Strategy

The existing structures involved in the formulation of the Government's National Drugs Strategy comprise the following:

  • The Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion. The Committee has political responsibility for reviewing trends in the drugs problem, assessing progress in implementing the National Drugs Strategy and resolving policy or organisational difficulties which may inhibit effective responses to the problem. It is chaired by the Taoiseach and comprises the Tanaiste and relevant Ministers. A Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Mr. Eoin Ryan, T.D., (and formerly Mr. Chris Flood, T.D.) has special responsibility for the co-ordination of the National Drugs Strategy and reports to the Committee on drug issues. (See Appendix A for details of its membership).
  • The Inter-Departmental Group on the National Drugs Strategy (IDG). The IDG, which has representatives from relevant Government Departments at Senior Official level, meets in conjunction with the NDST to oversee progress on the implementation of the strategy and review Government policy on issues which may arise. (See Appendix A for details of its membership).
  • The National Drugs Strategy Team (NDST). The NDST oversees the implementation of the National Drugs Strategy; ensures a co-ordinated approach to its implementation; addresses issues which arise from the implementation of the strategy; reports on progress and makes recommendations to the Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation on issues relating to the strategy. (See Appendix A for details of its membership).
  • The Local Drugs Task Forces (LDTFs). Local Drugs Task Forces, comprising a partnership between the statutory, voluntary and community sectors, were established in 1997 in the areas experiencing the worst levels of problem opiate use, located primarily in the Greater Dublin area with one in Cork City . The LDTFs prepared action plans which included a range of measures in relation to treatment, rehabilitation, education, prevention and curbing local supply. The Government allocated £10 million to support the implementation of 234 separate measures contained in the plans. Following a favourable external evaluation and an overall review of the LDTF initiative, a further £15m has been ear-marked by the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion to allow the LDTFs to up-date their plans.
  • The Drugs Co-ordinating Committees of the Regional Health Boards. The Strategy also seeks to address the nation-wide drug problem, such as cannabis and ecstasy, particularly among young people, through the appointment of Drugs Co-ordinators to assist the regional Health Boards in developing appropriate programmes and services, mostly in relation to drugs awareness, education and prevention. A number of the Health Boards have set up Regional Co-ordinating Committees in their areas, which work in partnership with other relevant agencies in developing a co-ordinated response to the drug problem, having regard to the needs of their particular regions.
  • The Assessment Committee was established under the Young People's Facilities and Services Fund, which was aimed at preventing young people at risk from becoming involved with drugs by providing facilities and services to divert them to other more healthy activities. The Committee initially prepared guidelines for the development of integrated plans in the target areas for the Fund. When the plans are submitted, the Committee assesses them and makes recommendations on funding to the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion. The Committee oversees the implementation of the Fund.
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3.3 Review of the National Drugs Strategy

A key objective in the strategy statement of the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation is to co-ordinate the development of an overall policy to tackle drug misuse. The Department, in pursuance of this objective, has initiated a review of the National Drugs Strategy with a view to having a new policy agreed and in place by the end of 2000.

A broad framework for undertaking the Review of the National Drugs Strategy has been agreed by the National Drugs Strategy Team (NDST) and the Inter-departmental Group (IDG) on the National Drugs Strategy. In this context, a discussion paper setting out the current state of play in relation to drugs policy, including the range of measures being undertaken across all Departments and Agencies and the various structures in place which impact on the drugs issue is being prepared by the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation. It is envisaged that this paper, which will be agreed by the IDG and NDST before wider circulation, will form the basis for a nation-wide consultation process involving all interested parties. On the basis of the outcome of this consultation process, the IDG and NDST will make their recommendations to the Cabinet Committee on future policy.


Existing Information Sets and Research Capacity

In line with the Terms of Reference of the interim Advisory Committee to identify current information sets and research capacity in relation to the prevalence, prevention, treatment and consequences of problem drug use in Ireland, submissions were requested from each member of the Interim Committee, based on their particular area of expertise, on existing available research and information sets in relation to the extent, nature, causes and effects of problem drug use. The data was sought under a range of headings, as follows:

  • Source (where does information originate; who "owns" information / research);
  • Status (published / confidential, etc. );
  • Funding source (State, EU, other);
  • Reporting framework;
  • Application (how is information used);
  • Methodology used to collect information / undertake research (e.g., Quantitative / qualitative);
  • Frequency of research / information collection (once-off, periodic, etc.);
  • Coverage (national/macro or local/micro);
  • Reliability / comparability;
  • Compliance with international standards;
  • Accessibility (e.g. barriers to access)

Comments were also invited on any gaps in existing information and research, any overlaps or duplication of information sources / research and the scope for rationalisation of existing data.

The exercise carried out, though not exhaustive given the time available, was significant and identified the existence of a considerable volume of research and information in relation to various aspects of problem drug use. Reflecting the fact that drugs issues cannot be considered in isolation from the wider context of social inclusion the data identified included a range of research projects in the areas of Health, Education, Justice, Social Affairs, etc. that impinge on the drugs area. The Committee identified the following key sources of research and information.

Sources of Information and Research Capacity

The Health Research Board (HRB), and specifically its Drug Misuse Research Division, was identified as a key source of information and research in relation to drugs issues both in Ireland and internationally. The HRB is the focal point in Ireland for the REITOX network for the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and as such, it collects a wide variety of information and research, particularly in the area of treatment, undertakes specific research projects, reports to the EMCDDA and publishes an annual report on drugs issues in Ireland.

The Drug Misuse Research Division oversees the maintenance and development of a national epidemiological database in relation to drug misuse; collects data on treated drug misuse and presents the finding in annual reports on treated drug misuse in Ireland; compiles data on indirect indicators of drug misuse, e.g. AIDS; and produces a national report on Drug Issues in Ireland. It both commissions and undertakes in-house research on aspects of drug misuse such as knowledge, attitudes and belief regarding drug misuse among the general public; prevalence of drug misuse in Ireland; and drug misuse by prisoners. It provides a wide range of information relating to drugs and drug misuse to a number of actors in a national context, including the Government, media, health professionals, researchers and the general public. (Appendix A describes the role and activities of the Drug Misuse Research Division in more detail).

The EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction) is a European Community institution providing information at European level concerning drugs, drug addiction and their consequences. The Centre works to improve the comparability of drug related data in the member states, disseminates information (particularly the Annual Report on the State of the Drug Problem in the EU) and co-operates with international bodies dealing with drug related issues. It is an important source of information and research on the international experience of the drug problem and models of good practice in relation to prevention and treatment. The Centre has responsibility for the Early Warning System, information exchange and risk assessment of new synthetic drugs under the Joint Action on New Synthetic Drugs. An informal Early Warning System has been established in Ireland involving the Departments of Health and Children, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the State Laboratory and the Forensic Science Laboratory, in the assessment of risks in new synthetic drugs.

The Garda Siochana also provide valuable information in relation to the supply side of the drug problem, including drug offences detected, drug seizures, problem drug use among offenders involved with the Juvenile Diversion Programme. The Garda Research Unit undertakes specific on-going research projects on issues such as the relationship between drugs and crime and people's attitudes and experiences regarding drugs. The Garda National Drugs Unit, while mainly an operational unit, has an intelligence gathering function and responds to ad hoc requests for information.

The Probation and Welfare Service produce annual reports with information on problem drug use among offenders in contact with that service in Dublin. It also produces ad-hoc research in the area of problem drug use.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has published a number of studies relevant to drug misuse in prisons.

The Regional Health Boards undertake research projects in the area of problem substance use. The research is commissioned on an on-going basis and varies in nature and extent between the Health Boards. Each Health Board is currently developing, or has already established, a drugs database. Trinity Court Drug Treatment Centre (Dublin) is Ireland's principal specialist drug treatment centre and as such, is potentially a major source of medical information in the treatment of problem drug use.

The Local Drugs Task Force Action Plans submitted to the National Drugs Strategy Team are a source of qualitative information in relation to existing services and facilities in operation locally to address the drugs problem. These are currently being up-dated and should serve as useful evidence of the extent and nature of the problem in each area as well as identifying emerging trends in the problem use of drugs. Each project receiving support will undergo an evaluation which will measure its success and highlight any lessons to be learned from the experience. All of the plans submitted are available to the public and many of them have been published and disseminated locally by the Local Drugs Task Force.

While the Department of Education and Science does not undertake direct research into drug prevention, evaluations have been carried out on the prevention programmes funded by the Department which provide useful insights into the issues relevant to success of such programmes in schools at primary and post-primary level.

The proposed Addiction Research Centre at Trinity College should prove to be an important source of competent, independent and critical research into the prevention and management of drug and alcohol problems in Ireland. The Centre, which involves a collaborative effort between the Department of Social Studies and the School of Pharmacy at TCD, is still in the planning stages but aims to be fully operational by mid 2000.

The EU-funded Science and Technology Against Drugs (STAD) programme, which was launched during the Irish Presidency of the EU in 1996, has supported research projects into many aspects of the drug problem in Ireland. The results of the research undertaken are being disseminated through various publications and on the internet. They cover a variety of aspects of the problem including socio-economic environment of young drug misusers, the social and psychological needs of children of drug misusers; the major influences on initiation to drugs; methadone maintenance and the rapid diagnosis of ecstasy poisoning.

The Combat Poverty Agency provides support to community groups in undertaking specific research projects, including drugs related research. An extensive library of publications on issues relating to social exclusion and drugs is available to the public through the Agency's library.

The Voluntary Drug Treatment Forum which brings together many of the service providers in the Voluntary Drug Treatment Sector is a significant source of information on the extent, nature and emerging trends in relation to problem drug use.

Similarly, Community Networks, facilitated by organisations such as Dublin City Wide Drugs Crisis Campaign, are a major source of information on problem drug use at a local level.

Findings in relation to research and information

It is evident from the exercise carried out that considerable research capacity exists and that a significant volume and range of data and information resides with many bodies, including the HRB, the Garda National Drugs Unit, the Garda Research Unit, the Regional Health Boards, the National Drugs Strategy Team, the Local Drugs Task Forces, the Combat Poverty Agency, the Community and Voluntary Sector, Trinity College - the School of Pharmacy and now the Addiction Research Centre. Significant data, including project and process evaluation reports, is being collected on an ongoing basis by the relevant Agencies and Bodies involved in the development and implementation of the National Drugs Strategy and wider Social Inclusion Policies. In particular, the Committee was made aware that the HRB was compiling a comprehensive annotated bibliography of research and information relating to illicit drug use and associated issues in Ireland which would be made widely available.

The Committee was satisfied that an exhaustive inventory of research and information sets was needed but given the timescale within which the Committee was to report it was decided that it would not be possible to complete such an exercise. It was decided instead to recommend that the new Committee should undertake this task as a priority, taking account of the HRB's aforementioned bibliography.

Much of the research and information being collected is available to policy makers via the interests represented on the structures in place for the formulation and implementation of the National Drugs Strategy. However, the data is not being collected and analysed in a co-ordinated and integrated manner. It is apparent that most of the Agencies who collect information undertake or commission research do so to meet their own particular requirements without reference to overall policy information needs. This results in the data collected not being centralised or made readily accessible and consequently not being assimilated and interpreted in the most effective manner. In addition the Community and Voluntary sectors have a range of information and expertise available to them which the Committee considers is not being fully exploited.

The Committee are strongly of the view that a more focused integrated approach to the collection and assimilation of data is needed. This should involve the designation of a central point to which all research data and information is channelled or its existence notified so that it can be accessed by policy makers and the various other interested parties in the drugs field. There is a clear need to make evaluation findings on existing initiatives, programmes and projects widely available to increase the shared learning between the various Agencies and Bodies involved in the area. There is also a need for a more consistent standardised approach to the preparation of reports and the presentation of data which makes it comparable and more easily assimilated.

The centralisation of data (existing and future) would enable more comprehensive analysis and interpretation of research and information and thereby enhance the effectiveness of policy formulation. To facilitate this centralisation of data more effective systems for collecting information and research are needed. Data collection should be undertaken in an integrated and co-ordinated way. New research being undertaken in the area of drugs should be notified to the NAC, with a view to assessing its relevance to overall policy needs and in particular in the context of the information priorities identified in the three year work programme of the new Advisory Committee. Such an approach would also serve to avoid duplication of resources in the collection of data.

Allied to this is the need to ensure that recognised methodologies are used in the collection and interpretation of data. There was concern among the Committee about the quality of some of the research being carried out where it seemed that recognised methodologies were not applied resulting in many cases in erroneous conclusions being drawn. There is a number of reasons for this including lack of expertise, proper training and financial support. The Agencies and Bodies operating in the Drugs area need to be encouraged and supported to ensure that data collection and reporting become part of everyday practice.


Information Gaps and Priority Policy Information Needs

Information Gaps

As part of the exercise described in the preceding chapter the Committee identified, an extensive range of research and information gaps under the headings of prevalence, prevention, treatment and consequences. These are listed in no order of priority in Appendix B.

Priority Policy Information Needs

The representatives from the National Drugs Strategy Team (NDST) were asked to consider the research and information gaps identified with a view to determining the main priority information needs for policy. The Team considered the gaps in terms of the broad headings of prevalence, prevention, treatment and consequences of drug misuse, as set out in the terms of reference. To avoid any overlap in the type of programmes and activities which could potentially fall under the four headings, it was agreed that the prevention should be interpreted as relating to "demand reduction" measures. The Team, in prioritising information needs, identified on the one hand, research priorities where some studies have been carried out or are underway or where information might be accessible, and on the other hand, where major gaps exist in research.

On the basis of the Team's submission, the Interim Advisory Committee agreed the following priority information needs for policy:

Prevalence:

  • To determine the size and nature of the drug problem in Ireland, with particular regard to opiate use, poly-drug use, problem use of prescription drugs, patterns of problem drug use (experimental, occasional, regular non-medical use), emerging trends and geographical spread, particularly among young people under 25; and problem drug users not in contact with treatment services

Prevention:

  • To examine the effectiveness in terms of impact and outcomes of existing prevention models and programmes, with particular regard to evaluation instruments developed at European level

Treatment

  • To examine the effectiveness in terms of impact and outcomes of existing treatment and rehabilitation models and programmes, with particular emphasis on longitudinal studies and relapse rates of treated clients and the effect of the treatment setting

Consequences

  • To examine the cost to society of the drug problem, with particular focus on drug related deaths, the impact of drugs on the family and communities, the relationship between drugs and crime, and the methods for tackling social nuisance related to problem drug use.


Prioritised three year programme of research

Having identified the broad priority policy areas set out in the previous chapter, the Committee used this as the basis to determine a prioritised 3 year research programme as required by the terms of reference. In doing this, the Committee was constrained by a number of factors. It was difficult to determine the extent of the 3 year programme having regard to the wide range of research and information gaps identified. In addition, any such programme should allow for ongoing developments and trends in the drugs area reflecting changing priority information needs, to be taken on board. It would also be necessary to take account of the results of any audit of existing research and information sets to be undertaken, which might have implications for identified priority needs.

It was decided therefore to frame the programme of research in broad terms with sufficient focus on the priority policy information needs without being overly prescriptive. This will allow for the necessary flexibility to take account of the factors outlined above. The NAC will oversee the delivery of the three year prioritised programme of research and evaluation which meets the gaps and priority needs identified by:

  1. using the capacity of relevant agencies engaged in information gathering and research, both statutory and non-statutory to deliver on elements of the programme;
  2. liaising with these agencies with a view to maximising the resources allocated to delivering the programme and avoiding duplication;
  3. co-ordinating and advising on research projects in the light of the prioritised programme;
  4. commissioning research projects which cannot be met through existing capacity;
  5.  

Prioritised Three Year Programme

The prioritised 3 year research programme recommended is as follows:

Inventory of Research and Information:

  • To compile a comprehensive inventory of existing research and information sets relating to the prevalence, prevention, treatment/rehabilitation and consequences of problem drug use in Ireland Improved co-ordination of research and data collection:
  • To open communication channels with key agencies to ensure that the NAC is kept informed of any new research being undertaken or new data being collected;
  • To establish a research network which will ensure better co-ordination and integration of research projects among relevant agencies and maximise resources in the context of the NAC's programme of research;
  • 

Prevalence

  • To determine the size and nature of the drug problem in Ireland
  • To determine the extent and nature of opiate use, poly-drug use and patterns of problem drug use (experimental, occasional, regular non-medical use) particularly among young people under 25;
  • To identify emerging trends and geographical spread
  • To determine the extent and nature of problem use of prescription drugs
  • To determine the prevalence of problem drug users not in contact with treatment services

Prevention

  • To examine the effectiveness in terms of impact and outcomes of existing prevention models and programmes, with particular regard to evaluation instruments developed at European level.
  • To undertake comparative studies of different models with particular reference to those in operation in Task Force areas
  • To determine transferability of models among different target groups. Treatment/ Rehabilitation
  • To examine the effectiveness in terms of impact and outcomes of existing treatment and rehabilitation models and programmes,
  • To undertake longitudinal studies of the effectiveness of existing treatment and rehabilitation models
  • To examine the context in which relapse occurs
  • To examine the impact of the treatment setting

Consequences

  • To examine the cost to society of the drug problem in terms of:
    • drug related deaths
    • the impact of drugs on the family and communities
    • the relationship between drugs and crime
    • the methods for tackling social nuisance related to drug misuse.


Reporting Framework

The Terms of Reference of the Interim Advisory Committee make it clear that duplication of effort must be avoided in the gathering and analysis of data whether on the part of the service providers generating raw data on the one hand, or research bodies with an interest in this topic or the other. The Committee was charged with putting a reporting framework in place which would aim to achieve this objective and make the best use of existing resources.

Having scoped the existing environment in which drugs related data is collected and assimilated as outlined in Chapter 4, the Committee identified the need for centralisation of data; co-ordination and integration in the recording, collection and commissioning of data; and for consistency of approach in regard to definitions and methodologies on the part of those currently providing and analysing information. All of these issues were considered in the context of establishing an effective reporting framework in line with the Terms of Reference of the Interim Committee.

Centralisation of data and location of a national database:

Considerable research data and information resides with many bodies, including the DMRD of the HRB, the Garda Siochana, the Regional Health Boards, the National Drugs Strategy Team, the Local Drugs Task Forces, Trinity College - the School of Pharmacy and, now the Addiction Research Centre, the Combat Poverty Agency and the Voluntary and Community Sector.

In order to ensure that such data is readily accessible to policy-makers as well as service providers in the drugs area a central point should be designated to which this data is channelled or, as appropriate, its existence notified and recorded in a way which facilitates ease of retrieval by policy makers and other interested parties. This would involve the establishment of a central database.

It should not be necessary, however, that such a database would physically hold all available data. The objective would be, firstly, to provide the means by which policy makers and other interested parties could be aware of the existence of the various types of data and, secondly, of course, that such data could be easily accessed.

In keeping with the requirements under the terms of reference to ensure that overlap and duplication are avoided, the aim is to build on existing capacity. Given the existing remit of the DMRD of the HRB, it is recommended that it should be given the necessary resources to expand its role to meet the need identified. The HRB and the NAC should work closely together to put in place an effective system that would make existing data available and accessible.

In this context, the DMRD proposes to develop an information resource relating to drug misuse which would ensure that Irish research and policy related publications will be accessible and easily retrieved by policy makers, service providers, community groups and the interested public. The database will build on existing resources of the DMRD and capitalise on its position as National Focal Point to the EMCDDA (in particular on the Virtual Library being developed by the EMCDDA). The database would include the following components:

  • An Annotated Bibliography - collection of annotated references to publications and "grey literature" (i.e. publications which would not be available through existing libraries) produced in Ireland; provision of details of how and where to access references; classification of material; the annotated bibliography will be available in hard copy and electronic form and distributed and promoted nationally;
  • An Electronic Library which would provide access to a compilation of electronic copies of key publications and grey literature included in the annotated bibliography;
  • Access Point - in the short term, until the Electronic Library is fully functional it would be proposed to store hard copies of the "grey literature"; to catalogue these and to provide a drop-in facility where they can be consulted and copied as needed. As electronic copies of publications become available this facility would be scaled down and eventually replaced by the Electronic Library;
  • Register of research on Drug misuse in Ireland - this would provide up to date information on research underway in the country; the information sources contacted in relation to the compilation of the Annotated Bibliography would be requested to provide information on work currently underway;
  • Information and Dissemination - expansion of existing information and dissemination role of the Drug Misuse Research Division to include promotion of the proposed Database. This would include dissemination of hard and electronic copies of the Annotated Bibliography, Register of Research and promotion of the Database (e.g. mailshots using the DMRD's existing databases, the DrugNet Newsletter and the HRB Website, etc).
  • Link to Virtual Library of EMCDDA - this will provide access to a pan-European information network on drugs.

In addition to the foregoing, there may be a need to develop innovative approaches to the dissemination of information which take account of the needs and circumstances of the Community and Voluntary Sector and involving the Local Drugs Task Forces.

Quality Control

The Interim Committee was concerned that the issue of the quality of some research where recognised methodologies are not applied, needs to be addressed. The overall need for more professionalism / understanding and training in relation to the interpretation and use of information and statistics on drug misuse was identified. To give greater value to research that is being carried out, particularly in terms of informing policy makers, it must comply with agreed norms which allow it to be analysed and compared with other similar data. Some quality control guidelines therefore need to be put in place to facilitate improved standards of research.

Expertise in commissioning and carrying out research resides with a number of agencies and organisations, in particular, the HRB. The Interim Committee considered that the HRB should, therefore, be given a role to develop guidelines, in consultation with other relevant bodies (including the EMCDDA, Combat Poverty Agency, etc) and the NAC, which could be used to promote best practice in the area of research. There should be an onus on any agency, organisation or group seeking State funding to undertake research to consult with the NAC with a view to taking account of any such guidelines in preparing their research proposals. To cover other cases, where there is no state funding involved, the guidelines setting out best practice should be promulgated as widely as possible emphasising the benefits of their use.

Data Collection

It has already been recognised in Chapter 4 that, in general, systems for collecting information and research in a more standardised and consistent manner were needed and that data collection and reporting should be encouraged as part of every day practice by Agencies and bodies operating in the Drugs area. This raises particular difficulties in many cases where there are often no formal structures in place which allow data to be collected and channelled in a consistent manner. In addition lack of funding to put effective mechanisms in place and to provide appropriate training particularly for community and voluntary groups can be an important factor in this regard.

One way of addressing this need is by including and supporting an information and data collection element in all projects where State funding is being provided where this is not being done already. Such an approach would have the added benefit of contributing to more effective evaluation and monitoring of such projects. In order to ensure a more co-ordinated approach in commissioning research, there should be an onus on agencies undertaking research to consult with the NAC, particularly, in relation to priority policy information needs. The standardisation of the format of annual reports and evaluation reports should be encouraged to facilitate comparability of data.

In addition to the specific type of data referred to above, it is clear that other more general information (e.g. relating to emerging trends in problem drug use) is available from the Community and Voluntary Sectors in particular. A mechanism is needed to allow such information to be reported and assimilated so that it informs policy formulation where appropriate. One option is that a person at local level be designated to report on an ongoing basis on any information emerging. In areas where a Local Drugs Task Force exists such a role could be incorporated into its functions. In other areas it would be a matter for the relevant Health Board or the appropriate co-ordinating Body. The information could be channelled to the National Advisory Committee which would take a decision on any action warranted, including whether more formal study was required. In addition a simple, standard type questionnaire could be used as a means of accessing this information but such a questionnaire would have to be carefully designed to ensure that it met the required needs. Any such mechanism would need to take account of, and link in with, the informal Early Warning System on new Synthetic Drugs, which involves the Departments of Health and Children, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the HRB, the Garda Siochana, the State Laboratory and the Forensic Science Laboratory, in the assessment of risks in new synthetic drugs.


Role, Structure and Composition of Advisory Group

As set out in Chapter 1 the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion envisaged a role for the National Advisory Committee in the formulation of drugs policy which would reflect the different perspectives which provide an insight into the drugs problem by providing authoritative information and research findings to inform the policy making process. The scope of that role was defined on the basis of the Terms of Reference agreed by the Cabinet Committee for the Interim Advisory Committee and having regard to its findings and recommendations in relation to the general environment in which research and information is collected and assimilated.

Under its terms of reference, the Interim Committee was asked to recommend, in the light of a three year prioritised programme of research and evaluation, a structure and composition for a National Advisory Committee which would have continuing responsibility for research and information in Ireland. While this cannot be read in isolation from the other Terms of Reference in defining the role of the new Committee, it nevertheless, makes it clear that the key responsibility of the NAC, in the context of policy formulation, is for research and information on problem drug use in Ireland. Taking this together with the other Terms of Reference, it follows that the advice to Government which the Committee will give must be related to and based on research and information on problem drug use in Ireland and with particular emphasis on the three year programme of research and evaluation.

It is apparent, in the light of the Terms of Reference given to the Interim Committee, that it was the intention of the Cabinet Committee that the NAC should operate within the existing framework and that its role should not overlap with or duplicate the roles of existing structures in place for the formulation of Drugs Policy.

Role of New Advisory Committee

Against this background and having regard to the deliberations of the Interim Committee and the submissions made in the matter, the role and functions of the new body are set out hereunder.

  • To advise the Government in relation to the prevalence, prevention, treatment and consequences of problem drug use in Ireland, based on the Committee's analysis and interpretation of research findings and information available to it;,
  • To review current information sets and research capacity in relation to the prevalence, prevention, treatment and consequences of problem drug use in Ireland and to make recommendations as appropriate on how deficits should be addressed including how to maximise the use of information available from the Community and Voluntary Sector;
  • To oversee the delivery of the three year prioritised programme of research and evaluation which meets the gaps and priority needs identified by: 
    1. using the capacity of relevant agencies engaged in information gathering and research, both statutory and non-statutory to deliver on elements of the programme;
    2. liaising with these agencies with a view to maximising the resources allocated to delivering the programme and avoiding duplication;
    3. co-ordinating and advising on research projects in the light of the prioritised programme;
    4. commissioning research projects which cannot be met through existing capacity;
  • To commission additional research at the request of the Government into drug issues of relevance to policy;
  • To work closely with HRB on the establishment of a national information/research database (in relation to prevalence, prevention, treatment and consequences of problem drug use) which is easily accessible;
  • To advise relevant Agencies with a remit to promote greater public awareness of the issues arising in relation to problem drug use and to promote and encourage informed debate through the dissemination of its research findings. 8.2 Status of the National Advisory Committee

It was agreed that the ultimate objective should be to establish an independent statutory NAC. However, it should be established on a non-statutory basis at the outset. Apart from the fact that the enactment of the relevant legislation to give it a statutory basis would take some time it was acknowledged that a non-statutory Body would have the necessary flexibility in the early stages to settle into its role and to establish its credibility and track record. The Committee recommend that the role and operation of the NAC should be reviewed after a 3 year period in the context of it being established on a statutory footing.

Structure of the National Advisory Committee

Having considered a number of possible options for the structure and composition of the NAC the Committee agreed that the National Crime Council would be an appropriate model. This decision was taken in the light of the role of the NAC as defined in Chapter 8.1 and the recommendation in Chapter 8.2 in relation to the status of the new Body.

The National Crime Council was established by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in 1999 to link into the existing range of committees and bodies, both statutory and non-statutory, with an input into crime policy. The Council which has 16 members, reflecting the various interests, including senior representation from the Department and the Garda Commissioner, has an input into the policy formulation process having particular regard to crime prevention, public awareness and research priorities. The Council has an annual budget of £250,000 which includes administrative support and reports to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

In line with the foregoing, the National Advisory Committee on Drugs should be established by, and report to, the Minister with responsibility under the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion for the co-ordination of the National Drugs Strategy. It would not be appropriate, in view of the Committee, for the NAC to report to any individual Minister with responsibility for a particular element of the Strategy. However, this would not exclude individual Ministers from asking the NAC to undertake particular tasks and report back directly.

It was envisaged from the outset that given the commitment to the
establishment of the NAC, it would be given the necessary resources to meet its needs. While it will ultimately be a matter for Government to determine the level of such resources, the interim Committee emphasised that the NAC will require significantly more resources than those of the National Crime Council to enable it to fulfil its wider role and functions.

Composition and Chair of the NAC

In light of the stated importance of ensuring that information and evaluation required to inform a comprehensive national strategy on drugs reflect different perspectives of the topic, the Interim Committee was conscious that a wide range of expertise should be available to the NAC. It was strongly of the view, therefore, that the membership of the new Committee should reflect the statutory, community, voluntary, academic and research interests represented on the Interim Committee together with representation, at a senior level, from the relevant Government Departments.

To facilitate the effective operation of the NAC and, in particular, its relationship with the various interests in the drugs area, it would be important that the chairperson should have a wide-ranging knowledge of the various elements of drugs policy and a clear appreciation of the roles of the statutory, community and voluntary sectors in the formulation and implementation of that policy. It would be desirable, though not essential to also have an understanding of research and related matters.


Recommendations

On the basis of its findings, the Interim Committee made the following recommendations:

Establishment of new Committee

  1. The National Advisory Committee on Drugs should be established by, and report to, the Minister with responsibility for the co-ordination of the National Drugs Strategy.
  2. The ultimate objective should be to establish an independent statutory National Advisory Committee. However, to allow the new Body to settle into its role, develop a track record and establish its credibility, it should be established initially on a non-statutory basis. Its role and operation should be reviewed after a 3 year period in the context of its being established on a statutory basis.
  3. In light of the importance of ensuring that information and evaluation required to inform a comprehensive national strategy on drugs reflect different perspectives of the topic, the membership of the new Committee should reflect the statutory, community, voluntary, academic and research interests represented on the Interim Committee together with representation, at a senior level, from the relevant Government Departments.
  4. To facilitate the effective operation of the NAC and, in particular, its relationship with the various interests in the drugs area, the chairperson should have a wide-ranging knowledge of the various elements of drugs policy and a clear appreciation of the roles of the statutory, community and voluntary sectors in the formulation and implementation of that policy. It would be desirable, though not essential to also have an understanding of research and related matters.
  5. The National Crime Council should be used as the model for the structure of the NAC. It should also be used as a reference in determining the level of resources to be provided for the new Committee while having regard for the more extensive brief of the latter.

Role of new Committee

The Committee should have the following functions:

  • To advise the Government in relation to the prevalence, prevention, treatment and consequences of problem drug use in Ireland, based on the Committee's analysis and interpretation of research findings and information available to it;
  • To review current information sets and research capacity in relation to the prevalence, prevention, treatment and consequences of problem drug use in Ireland and to make recommendations as appropriate on how deficits should be addressed including how to maximise the use of information available from the Community and Voluntary Sector;
  • To oversee the delivery of the three year prioritised programme of research and evaluation which meets the gaps and priority needs identified by: 
  1.  
    1. using the capacity of relevant agencies engaged in information gathering and research, both statutory and non-statutory to deliver on elements of the programme;
    2. liaising with these agencies with a view to maximising the resources allocated to delivering the programme and avoiding duplication;
    3. co-ordinating and advising on research projects in the light of the prioritised programme; 
    4. commissioning research projects which cannot be met through existing capacity;
  • To commission additional research at the request of the Government into drug issues of relevance to policy;
  • To work closely with the Health Research Board (HRB) on the establishment of a national information/research database (in relation to prevalence, prevention, treatment and consequences of problem drug use) which is easily accessible;
  • To advise relevant Agencies with a remit to promote greater public awareness of the issues arising in relation to problem drug use and to promote and encourage informed debate through the dissemination of its research findings.

Collection and Assimilation of Data

  • To achieve a more focused integrated approach to the collection and assimilation of data, a central point should be designated which would involve the establishment of a national database to which research data, evaluation reports, and information should be channelled or, as appropriate, its existence notified and recorded in a way which facilitates ease of retrieval by policy makers and other interested parties.
  • To work towards this objective the Drug Misuse Research Division (DMRD) of the HRB should be designated as the central point and should be given the necessary resources to expand its existing role in relation to the development of a national database. The National Advisory Committee should work closely with the HRB to put in place an effective mechanism which would make existing data available and accessible.
  • The HRB should also be given a role to develop guidelines, in consultation with other relevant bodies (including the EMCDDA, Combat Poverty Agency, etc) and the NAC, which could be used to promote best practice in the area of research. There should be an onus on any agency, organisation or group seeking State funding to undertake research to consult with the NAC with a view to taking account of any such guidelines in preparing their research proposals. To cover other cases, where there is no state funding involved, the guidelines setting out best practice should be promulgated as widely as possible emphasising the benefits of their use.
  • To facilitate better collection and reporting of data:
    • A more integrated and co-ordinated approach to the collection of data should be promoted.
    • A more consistent approach to the preparation of reports and evaluation of initiatives should be encouraged.
    • An information and data collection element should be included and supported in all projects where State funding is being provided.
    • A person should be designated at local level to report on more general information coming to hand, such as for example, emerging patterns in problem drug use. A simple standard type questionnaire could also be used as a means of accessing this information but such a questionnaire would have to be carefully designed to ensure that it met the required needs. Any such mechanism would need to take account of, and link in with, the informal Early Warning System, which involves the Departments of Health and Children, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the DMRD of the HRB, the Garda Siochana, the State Laboratory and the Forensic Science Laboratory, in the assessment of risks in new synthetic drugs.
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