Swann launches consultation on tackling alcohol and drug harm

Date published: 04 November 2020

Health Minister Robin Swann has launched a full public consultation on Northern Ireland’s new alcohol and drug strategy.

Announcing the launch of the consultation Minister Swann said: “The impacts of alcohol and drug harm are being felt by too many people in Northern Ireland every day. The launch of this public consultation is an important step in helping to prevent and reduce the harm related to substance use in Northern Ireland. The new strategy has been co-produced by my Department, working in partnership with key stakeholders, both inside and outside government, including service users.”

Minister Swann added: “Alcohol and drug use is one of the biggest public health and societal issues facing Northern Ireland. The cost of alcohol related harm alone is estimated to be as much as £900 million every year. Add in the cost of the harms from other drugs and the figure could be well over £1bn annually.”

“But these figures, however large, don’t bring home the suffering and tragedy that alcohol and other drugs cause to individuals, families and communities across Northern Ireland. We must therefore be open to the need to explore new ways to tackle this societal crisis we are caught in.  That is why I previously decided to include a commitment to holding a full public consultation on the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol in Northern Ireland within one year of the publication of this strategy.”

In supporting the launch, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride said: “In recent years, we have seen significant change in the patterns of use, such as the emergence of polydrug use, the continuing misuse of prescription medicines, and increasingly hazardous alcohol consumption among some groups.  We must also consider the impact that COVID-19 has had on certain groups increasing their alcohol intake above safe levels. I believe that this is the right time to look afresh at these issues and to take on board new innovative and evidence-based approaches to tackling the harm being caused to so many across our society.”

Encouraging people to respond to the consultation document, the Minister stated: “This is a serious issue which can have long lasting and devastating consequences for those affected. Despite the work already underway, neither my Department nor the NI Executive can reduce the harm related to alcohol and other drugs on its own. Many sections of society – individuals, voluntary and community organisations, and the alcohol industry – have a key role to play.

“During the consultation, I would encourage everyone and every organisation with an interest in this issue to consider the document and send in your views and comments – we are particularly keen to hear a wide range of views on which areas and actions we should take forward as a priority.”

The consultation document is available on the DoH website and responses are invited by 5:00pm on 5 February 2021.

Notes to editors: 

  1. The Department of Health is responsible for leading and co-ordinating action on Northern Ireland’s current substance misuse strategy – the New Strategic Direction for Alcohol & Drugs Phase 2 (NSD Phase 2) – endorsed by the former NI Executive and launched in 2012. ‘New Decade, New Approach’ contains a commitment for the Executive to publish a successor strategy to NSD Phase 2.
  2. Subject to consultation responses and Executive approval, it is planned that the new strategy “Making Life Better – Preventing Harm & Empowering Recovery: A Strategic Framework to Tackle the Harm from Substance Use” will become fully operational early in 2021.
  3. A review of the current Alcohol and Drugs Strategy was completed in 2019 and highlighted a number of positive outcomes:

    - the proportion of adults drinking above the recommended guidelines has reduced (from 26% in 2010/11 to 20% in 2017/18);
    - there was significant reductions in the proportion of young people who had ever drank alcohol (55% in 2007 to 32% in 2016);
    - the proportion of young people who had ever been drunk also fell (55% in 2007 to 45% in 2016); and
    - the percentage of adults who binge drink also reduced over the course of the strategy (38% in 2005 to 31% in 2013).
  4. However the review also indicated that alcohol-related deaths continued to rise over the course of the strategy and alcohol-related admissions to hospital also increased from 9,573 in 2008/09 to 11,636 in 2016/17.
  5. Work began to develop a formal document for public consultation on proposals for a new substance (alcohol and drugs) use strategy in early 2020, in partnership with the key stakeholders, however with the emergence of COVID-19 this work was paused until the end of July.
  6. For media queries please contact DoH Press Office by email: pressoffice@health-ni.gov.uk.
  7. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt.
  8. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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