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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.

2010/11 Drugs survey reveals that level of recent and current drug use remains stable

News Release, issued by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs
Tuesday November 22nd, 2011

Men and those aged 15-24 have highest recent use of illegal drugs

Recent and current levels of illegal drug use were mainly stable in Ireland between 2006/7 and 2010/11. This finding is revealed in the study Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland which was released today by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) and the Public Health Information and Research Branch of the Department of Health, Social Services & Public Safety in Northern Ireland.

NACD Chairperson Dr. Des Corrigan stated: “While some legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco are included, the main focus of the survey was to obtain prevalence rates for illegal drugs, such as cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin on a lifetime (ever used), last year (recent use) and last month (current use) basis. It is significant that the level of recent and current drug use has been mainly stable between 2006/7 and 2010/11 for all illegal drugs.”

Dr. Corrigan continued: “The overall prevalence rate for last year use of any illegal drug was 7% in 2010/11 compared to 7.2% in 2006/07. Cannabis continues to be the most commonly used illegal drug, with 25% of respondents having ever used the drug, 6% reported having used cannabis in the last year and 3% in the last month. New psychoactive substances (4%) and cocaine (1.5%) were reported as being the next most widely used illicit drugs”.

In Northern Ireland a similar level 27% reported ever having used any illegal drug but since 2006/07, there was a decrease in last year (recent) use of any illegal drugs from 9% to 7%.

The survey found that in Ireland lifetime use of any illegal drugs increased from 24% in 2006/7 to 27% in 2010/11 among (15-64 years). Increases were also found in lifetime use of cannabis (from 22% - 25%) and cocaine powder (from 5% to 7%).

The survey also covered legal substances such as “other opiates” (i.e. prescribed medicines and over the counter painkillers including substances such as codeine). Over a quarter of respondents (28%) reported usage of these in the 12 months prior the survey, with a higher prevalence amongst women (32%) compared to men (24%). The sharp increase in the 2010/11 figures compared to 2006/07 is due to methodological factors and these rates cannot be meaningfully compared over time.

Minister of State Róisín Shortall who launched the report in Dublin today said “I welcome the publication of this Drug Prevalence Survey as it provides the best measure of the current illegal drugs situation in Ireland, thus informing policy formulation for the period ahead”. The Minister commented that: “While lifetime prevalence (which is a cumulative measure of the total number of people who have ever tried drugs and is thus expected to increase) is of interest, last year use is a much more appropriate indicator of drug trends. While acknowledging that we have a significant drug problem she welcomed the fact that the steady increase in usage that we saw in the early 2000s has been stemmed. “We need to push on now to encourage and facilitate more people to progress to a drug-free lifestyle” she said.

The Minister continued “At the same time that I am concerned about the levels of usage of some prescription drugs, whether sourced in Ireland or bought over the internet from abroad. While the huge increase in usage of ‘other opiates’ shown in the survey arises from the inclusion of a much broader range of products under the heading, the figures are undeniably high, As a first step I have asked the HSE to carry out an examination of the prescribing patterns for benzodiazepines”.

No significant changes in lifetime or last year alcohol use occurred in Ireland since 2006/07. The rate of last month (current) use of alcohol decreased from 73 per cent in 2006/07 to 71 per cent in 2010/11. There was a decrease in the last month use of tobacco from 33% to 28%.

The report also highlighted

  • Men aged 15-24 were more than twice as likely as women to report last year use of cannabis and more than three times as likely to report use of new psychoactive substances and cocaine powder.
  • There was greater prevalence of women aged 15-24 using ‘other opiates’ (legally available medicines including prescribed and ‘over the counter’ painkillers) in the last year compared to young men.
  • Men were over five times more likely to report use of cannabis in the last month.
  • Men were more than twice more likely to use cocaine than women in the last month.
  • Women and older adults continue to report higher levels of use of sedatives or tranquilisers and anti-depressants.
  • Men of all ages (15-64) reported higher levels of recent and current alcohol use than women of all ages.
  • While there were no significant changes in lifetime or last year use of alcohol since the last survey in Ireland, last month prevalence rates of alcohol decreased significantly (from 73% to 71%).
  • There was also a significant decrease in the last month rate of tobacco (from 33% to 28%).

Joan O’Flynn, Director of NACD said: “These new survey findings suggest that there is a continuing need for preventative measures under the National Drugs Strategy that focus on young people, particularly young men, their families and communities and that take account of the gendered nature of substance use”.

The NACD recommends continued support for initiatives that support families and communities so that local and early interventions assist in preventing or delaying substance use amongst young people”“, she said.

“The NACD also highlighted the importance of building on existing education initiatives, including the work of the National Educational Welfare Board, which aims to prevent early-school leaving so that their impact on countering substance use among young people is maintained”, she said.

Further Information

Jemma Hogan, Montague Communications: (01) 830 3116 or (085) 722 9024
Ronan Cavanagh, Montague Communications: (01) 830 3116 or (086) 317 9731

Notes to Editor

Lifetime prevalence is a cumulative measure of the total number of people who have ever tried drugs and includes many who have done so in the past. While valuable for other purposes, lifetime prevalence is not ideal for monitoring drug use prevalence in the general population. Recent or current levels of drug use as measured in the last year or last month are more appropriate indicators

The National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) 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 NACD is to advise the Government on problem drug use in Ireland in relation to prevalence, prevention consequences and treatment based on analysis and interpretation of research findings.

The survey was conducted between October 2010 and May 2011 and comprised a representative sample of people aged 15-64. It achieved 7,669 respondents (5,134 in Ireland and 2,535 in Northern Ireland).

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