By Brian Houlihan
A report on drugs use in Ireland was recently released by the National Advisory Council on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA). The NACDA was established in 2000 by the Irish government to help inform and direct drugs policy using the latest research findings.
The report entitled ‘Prevalence of Drug Use and Gambling in Ireland and Drug Use in Northern Ireland’ was commissioned by the NACDA and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland.
The main objective of the survey was to obtain prevalence rates for key illegal drugs on a lifetime (ever used), last year (recent use), and last month (current use) basis. Similar prevalence questions were also asked of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs; attitudinal and demographic information was also sought from respondents.
The following are some of the key findings of the report.
- 26.4% of Irish adults aged 15 years or older report using an illegal drug in their lifetime, 7.5% in the past 12 months and 4.0% in the past month.
- Lifetime usage of cannabis (24.0%) is considerably higher than any other form of drug. The second most commonly used drug is ecstasy (7.8%) with lifetime usage of cocaine (including crack) and cocaine powder at 6.6% and 6.4% respectively.
- Almost a fifth (19.9%) of Irish adults have used other opiates in the past month, with 43.4% doing so in the past 12 months and 61.5% having done so at some stage during their life.
- Over 6 in 10 (62.1%) Irish adults have consumed alcohol in the past month, with past year and lifetime usage at 77.0% and 82.8% respectively.
- Just over a quarter (25.1%) have smoked a tobacco product in the past month, with twice as many (50.9%) having done so at some stage during their life.
- Lifetime usage of any illegal drug has increased significantly from 27.2% in 2010/11 to 30.7% in 2014/15 in adults aged 15–64. Similarly, last year and last month prevalence of any illegal drug has also increased since the previous study (respectively from 7.0% to 8.9%, and from 3.2% to 4.7%).
- Significant increases in lifetime prevalence have been observed for cannabis (25.3% to 27.9%), ecstasy (6.9% to 9.2%), and crack (0.6% to 1.1%).
- Significant increases in last year prevalence have been observed for cannabis (6.0% to 7.7%), ecstasy (0.5% to 2.1%), poppers (0.2% to 0.6%) and anti-depressants (4.8% to 5.9%).
- Significant increases in last month prevalence have been observed for cannabis (2.8% to 4.4%) and ecstasy (0.1% to 1.0%).
- Last year usage of New Psychoactive Substances has declined significantly from 3.5% to 0.8%. This follows legislative changes in this respect during that time period. Last year prevalence of new psychoactive substances amongst those aged 15 to 34 has declined significantly from 6.7% to 1.6%, and from 1.0% to 0.2% in the 35 to 64 age group.
- There has been a significant increase in the lifetime prevalence of anti-depressants amongst women (from 12.4% to 14.5%). Last year prevalence has increased from 5.6% to 7.0% and last month from 5.0% to 5.7%.
- There has been a statistically significant increase in lifetime prevalence of illegal drugs amongst those aged 35 to 64 since the previous study (from 20.6% to 25.6%). Statistically significant increases in last year and last month usage of any illegal drug are observed amongst the 15 to 34 age group.
- Statistically significant increases amongst those aged 15 to 34 are observed for lifetime (10.9% to 14.0%), last year (0.9% to 4.4%) and last month use (0.1% to 2.1%) of ecstasy. This age group also show increases in last year (37.3% to 38.3%) and last month (31.3% to 32.8%) use of tobacco.
- Statistically significant increases amongst those aged 35 to 64 are observed for lifetime use of ecstasy (3.7% to 5.6%) and solvents (1.5% to 2.5%).
The graph below shows the prevalence of drug use during a lifetime, the last year and the last month. Over a quarter of respondents have used an illegal drug at some point in their life, with cannabis by far the most widely used.
The research in the report is also broken down by age. The graph below shows the data for lifetime prevalence.
The graph below shows the prevalence of drug use during the previous month.
The data is also broken down by gender. The graph below shows the lifetime prevalence of drug use and the differences between males and females.
The graph below shows the prevalence of drug use during the previous year broken down by gender.
Within the report there more graphs which go into greater detail and I’ve only shown a selection here. There is also data available for Northern Ireland and the island as a whole.
Professor Catherine Comiskey, the Chair of the NACDA, recently stated at the launch of the report that “Approaches that seek to divert problematic drug users into treatment, that prioritise local community perspectives, and those that occur in collaboration with community-based structures and all relevant agencies, are more likely to be sustainable over time and to win public support.”
Whether the government agrees with Professor Comiskey remains to be seen.
Brian Houlihan is a Director of Help Not Harm which seeks to shift the emphasis of Irish drug policy from criminal justice to public health.