Press Release

Drugs survey reveals that levels of recent drug use has risen slightly

Recent levels of all illegal drug use have risen in Ireland by 1.9% between 2010/11 and 2014/15. Today’s findings are revealed in the study “Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland”, arising from data collected in the fourth Drug Prevalence Survey.

Results released today relating to Cannabis, Polydrug and New Psychoactive Substance use and Prescription Drug Use indicate that Cannabis continues to be the most commonly used illegal drug and that the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) has dropped significantly.

Minister for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne TD said “I welcome the publication of the findings of these three surveys, which serve to inform us of trends in drug use and inform policy formulation and future planning and action.

The publication in 2017 of “Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery – a health led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025” was an important milestone in emphasising and progressing a health-led, person-centred approach to drug and alcohol use in Ireland.

“A number of actions in “Reducing Harm Supporting Recovery” address the survey findings, especially the continuing need for preventative measures that focus on young people. The strategy commits to developing targeted, appropriate and effective services for young people at risk of substance misuse, focused on socially and economically disadvantaged communities.

“In progressing our strategy and its priority actions, I secured €1 million annually for this new fund. The initial focus of the fund will be to prevent the use of benzodiazepines among young people. I am aware that services on the ground are concerned about the rapid increase in numbers of young people taking benzodiazepines in combination with other substances. This new funding will enable services to reach out to these young people and give them the supports that they need.”

The key findings of the Cannabis Results:

  • 26.4% of Irish adults aged 15+ report using an illegal drug in their lifetime with 7.5% using an illegal drug in the past 12 months.
  • Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug with lifetime usage of 24.0%, last year usage of cannabis 6.5%, and 3.7% using this within the past month. These prevalence figures are considerably higher than any other form of drug.
  • Among people who used cannabis in the last year, 19.7% are classified as cannabis dependent. Cannabis dependence is higher in males who used in the last year than females (22.8% vs 11.8%).
  • Among people who used cannabis in the last year, 30.3% meet the criteria for cannabis abuse. Rates of cannabis abuse are higher among males (30.3%) than females (23.5%).
  • Most respondents (74.5%) agree that people should be permitted to take cannabis for medical reasons. Males are more likely to agree with this statement than females (77.0% vs. 72.1%). Older adults are more likely to agree than young adults (78.4% vs. 73.9%) and over 65s (64.2%). This is a sizeable increase when compared to the 2010/11 survey (65.8%).
  • The majority disagree with recreational use of cannabis (66.4%, down from 69.2% in 2010/11)
  • 74.3% (73.1% in 2010/11) disapprove of people smoking cannabis occasionally.

The key findings of the Prescription Drugs report:

  • Prevalence is highest in Ireland among females and the elderly with 8% of women and 8% of those aged 35-64 reporting use of sedatives or tranquillisers. Anti-depressants prevalence is also highest for both groups at 7%.
  • Most people obtain these medications from their GP. There are indications that some people could be taking them in a way that is counter to recommended practice guidelines and thereby putting their health and well-being at risk. Accordingly, the 5th Drug Prevalence survey will include questions to assess the non-medical use of prescription drugs.
  • 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.
  • Use of other opiate is significantly higher among females across all the timeframes. This could be attributed to the fact that over-the-counter pain medication is included in the category. The majority of respondents report getting other opiates without a prescription in a chemist.

The main focus of the survey is 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.

The reports are available on the Department of Health website here.


Notes to the Editor

Lifetime prevalence = respondent(s) had ever used a drug
Recent use = respondent(s) used drug in the year prior to the survey
Current use = respondent(s) used drug in the month prior to the survey

Survey Methodology
The general population survey is a collaborative project between the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol and colleagues in the Public Information and Health Research Branch (PHIRB) within the Department of Health in Northern Ireland. On this occasion, the fieldwork was carried out by Ipsos MRBI in Ireland. This survey updates information gathered in the previous surveys carried out in 2002/03, 2006/07 and 2010/2011.

The survey was carried out to the exacting standards set by the EU Drugs Agency (the EMCDDA).

The population survey is a drug prevalence survey and is intended to reflect drug use in the general population. For the purposes of this survey, we take the general population to mean those aged 15+ and normally residing in households in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It does not include those residing in institutions such as prisons, residential care, nursing homes, hospitals etc.

Problematic drug users may be underrepresented in this type of survey because of the complicated and problematic nature of their lives.