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Press Release: Tuesday 6th October 2020

Minister for Public Health and Wellbeing publishes guidance for drug and alcohol support groups and treatment programmes


The Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan TD, has today published new guidance for drug and alcohol support groups and treatment programmes and other addiction treatment services. In line with ‘Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19’, this new guidance has been developed to ensure these groups can operate safely, including at levels 3 and 4 of the government framework.


Minister Feighan said: “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a major impact in Ireland and globally. By following the public health advice, we can reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities and support the provision of vital non-COVID healthcare services. As Minister, I fully recognise the vital role played by drug, alcohol support groups and treatment programmes in reducing the harms of substance use and supporting rehabilitation and recovery. They help individuals to build their recovery capital and to avoid relapse into harmful patterns of substance use. The restrictions on social interaction, the requirement for self-isolation and the restructuring of services, are particularly difficult for those accessing drug and alcohol services and supports.


“I want to acknowledge the input of supports groups and service providers in the formulation of this new guidance. We all share a common goal for the safe resumption of recovery support groups. However, these groups and programmes have to align with the Government framework for restrictive measures in response to Covid-19. Many people affected by drugs and alcohol are at a higher health risk from COVID-19. It is imperative that drug and alcohol services adhere strictly to public health advice.”

The Department of Health is working with drug and alcohol task forces, sectoral oversight bodies and HSE addiction services to assist support groups and treatment programmes to implement this new guidance and to identify any issues of concern. The guidance should be considered interim, and is subject to ongoing review and updating to reflect public health advice, Government decisions on restrictive measures and emerging issues.


The guidance applies to the following drug and alcohol services and other addiction support services such as gambling addiction:


  1. support and recovery groups for people and families who live with drug and alcohol addiction (including gambling addiction), such as self-help/fellowship groups, peer support, family/parent support.
  2. community projects providing services and supports for people who use drugs, such as drug rehabilitation CE programmes, harm reduction/advocacy training.
  3. treatment programmes (non-residential) for people with drug and alcohol addiction, such as counselling, stabilisation, therapeutic communities, aftercare.

The main points of the guidance are as follows:


  1. It is recommended to hold meetings and deliver programmes online or outdoors where this is possible, without diluting the benefits for participants
  2. Where it is decided to host a face-to-face group/programme meeting, organisers are advised to undertake a risk assessment to ensure the health, welfare and safety of participants
  3. Facilities used to host support groups and treatment programmes should be for exclusive use, where possible, and not shared with other users
  4. The recommended maximum number of attendees at level 3 is 15 people (including leaders), with 2 metres social distancing
  5. Support groups and programmes should last a maximum of 115 minutes (1 hour and 45 minutes)
  6. Individuals at higher risk from Covid-19, or in close contact with such individuals, should only attend meetings that are conducted online

The guidance is available here.

Cathy McEvoy

Author Cathy McEvoy

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