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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.

Study estimates rise in opiate users in Ireland

The outcome of a study of opiate use in Ireland in 2006 has indicated that use has increased since the previous such survey in 2001. 

The study, commissioned by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD), indicated that there were 11,807 known opiate users in 2006, but there is considerable doubt over the estimate produced of a possible further 8,983 opiate users who have not come into contact with any of the drug treatment services, hospital in-patient services or the Gardaí.

The Minister for Drugs John Curran said:

"I had hoped that this capture recapture report would give a reliable estimate of the prevalence of opiate use in Ireland in 2006. However, due to a number of technical factors, relating to the population of the survey not being ‘closed’ and to the diminishing overlap between the 3 sources used, this has not proved possible using the capture recapture methodology. The result is an overestimate of the opiate using population."

The NACD also urged a considerable degree of caution in interpreting the figures for those who are ‘unknown’ to services. The major expansion of the national methadone treatment programme between 2001 and 2006 is the main reason for the inflation of the figures. This resulted in a number of requirements of the statistical methodology not being met. In light of these technical complications the NACD proposes to undertake further research on opiate use next year.

The following are among the trends (2001-2006) that are illustrated in the study results:

  • The rate of opiate use among females and males aged 15-24 decreased, indicating a significant reduction in the number of young people commencing opiate use;
  • An increase in opiate use outside of Dublin
  • A higher proportion of opiate users are in treatment in Dublin than elsewhere, reflecting the more recent spread of opiate use outside Dublin and the later development of treatment services.

Minister Curran said:

"The general consensus is that, while opiate use has been relatively stable in the Dublin area over the last number of years, its use has become more widely dispersed around the country.  This is borne out by the experience of service providers, the fact that the rate of new entrants to treatment had dropped significantly (by approximately 20% between 2001/02 and 2006/07) and the fact that the average age of those in treatment had increased from 28 to 33 in the same period."

NACD Chairperson Dr. Des Corrigan said that the research highlighted the need for continued investment in existing opiate treatment services, including the expansion of opiate treatment services outside of Dublin. A recent joint initiative of the HSE and the Office of the Minister for Drugs will see major improvements in treatment provision in locations around the country, including Tralee, Cork, Waterford, Enniscorthy, Drogheda and Dundalk.

"The NACD reiterates its strong endorsement of the recommendations of theWorking Group on Drugs Rehabilitation for a continued expansion of the range of treatment options for recovering drug users, an increase in the number of residential detoxification beds and an increase in the number and geographical spread of residential and community detoxification places provided by the non-statutory voluntary and community sectors."

said Dr. Corrigan.

Further Information

Ronan Cavanagh, Montague Communications: (01) 830 3116 or (086) 317 9731.

Report lead author and research methodology

The study was lead by Dr. Alan Kelly of the Small Area Health Research Unit (SAHRU) Trinity College and estimated the prevalence of problem opiate users in Ireland in 2006 using a 3-source capture recapture method.
The three data sources employed to calculate the estimate were the Central (methadone) Treatment List (CTL), the Hospital In-Patient Enquiry Scheme (HIPE) and the Garda list of opiate users.
Kind regards, Ronan Cavanagh, Montague Communications.

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