Press Release

New study on drug use in Irish prisons shows improvement in treatment provision and support services for prisoners

The National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA) today (Thursday 10 April 2014) published a new study on drug use in Irish prisons.

The prevalence of drug use, including intravenous drug use and blood-borne viruses among the Irish Prisoner Population was carried out by Dr Anne Drummond and Dr Mary Codd of UCD and was funded by the NACDA and the Irish Prison Service (IPS).

The study aimed to determine the need for drug treatment and harm reduction services in Irish prisons by estimating the prevalence of drug use, including intravenous drug use and blood-borne viruses, amongst the prisoner population.

The study found that while drug use among prisoners is far greater that in the general population, significant improvements have taken place in drug treatment provision and access to support services such as addiction counselling and nursing:

  • seven out of ten prisoners who needed methadone said they received it,
  • two in ten received detox from benzodiazepines when they needed it,
  • four in ten who needed access to a drug-free wing had access to one,
  • three in ten who needed drug treatment received it.

The Chair of NACDA, Professor Catherine Comiskey, said, The prison population is a high risk group with a disproportionate number of people with a history of using drugs. In prison it is hoped that they will have an opportunity to effect a positive change in their lives by availing of treatment services”.


Based on the study, NACDA recommended measures that would minimise or eliminate prisoners sharing drug use equipment to manage the risks associated with injecting drugs in prisons, specifically:

  • prison reception health screening to identify drug users and provide viral screening, advice on harm reduction, sexual health, overdose prevention, disease prevention, safe tattooing,
  • comprehensive drug treatment options should be available and adequately resourced in every prison,
  • ensure that those availing of treatment services in prison have smooth transition to appropriate services on release, so that there is continuous care provided to avoid relapse or overdose if left without,
  • drug-free wings to help prisoners remain abstinent and to protect non-dependent prisoners from exposure to drugs,
  • specific gender sensitive rehabilitation services to address the use of illicit substances by women in prison, to address their particular health needs,
  • Cannabis use needs to be considered in the context of increasing international concern regarding the high levels of THC, particularly in herbal cannabis.

Notes for Editors

The prevalence of drug use, including intravenous drug use and blood-borne viruses among the Irish Prisoner Populationcan be accessed at


The NACD was established in July 2000 to advise the Irish Government in relation to the prevalence, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and consequences of problem drug use in Ireland based its analysis of research findings and other information available to it. During 2013 the remit of the Committee was extended to incorporate alcohol as well as drugs and is now known as the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA). The NACDA comprises representatives nominated from relevant agencies and sectors, both statutory and non-statutory. The NACDA reports to the Minister of State responsible for the National Drugs Strategy.

The study is based on data collected from a random sample of the prison population (824 prisoners). All prisons in Ireland were included in the study and the samples from each prison were proportionate to size. The results for drug use among prisoners were based on a pre-structured questionnaire and the tests for Hepatitis C, B and HIV were based on biological samples collected.

The lifetime prevalence of cannabis use was 87% in the prison population vs 25% in the general population. The study also showed that the level of injecting drug use was low, at 1.3% in the month prior to the survey. In addition, the prevalence rate for Hepatitis B was 0.3% and 13% for Hepatitis C

View the report here