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.

New Research Highlights the Need for Adequately Funded Support Services for Drug-Using Sex Workers

For Release: Tuesday 12th May 2009

Respondents exposed to multiple risks and harms in their living and working lives

The need for adequately resourced support structures to effectively reduce individuals’ risk of harm was highlighted in the first ever qualitative research on sex workers in Ireland. The National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) report, Drug Use, Sex Work and the Risk Environment in Dublin, was launched today (Tuesday 12th May 2009) by Mr. John Curran, TD, Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy. The NACD conducted this research  as part of its commitment under Action 98 of the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 to study drug use in vulnerable groups and as part of its remit to advise the Government about the consequences of problem drug taking in Ireland.

The research explored the local risk environment within which problem drug-using sex workers in Dublin live and work. In-depth interviews were conducted with 35 drug users, currently or previously engaged in sex work, to gain an understanding of how they perceive and behave in response to risk.  The report concluded that wider social and situational needs such as poverty, housing, health, educational needs and employment prospects are as fundamental to reducing their risk of harm as addressing drug use.

Launching the report, Minister Curran welcomed the research stating that it will be used to inform developments in the National Drugs Strategy :

“The report provides valuable information on a key ‘at risk group’.  As part of the consultation process involved in developing a new National Drugs Strategy for the period 2009-2016 officials of my Department met with a sex-worker representative group and took full note of the points they made.  I am committed to continuing to work on achieving real progress in regard to harm reduction and drug rehabilitation. I hope that that significant strides forward can be made in that regard over the coming period across several areas such as medical support, housing, education, employment and family support.”

Speaking at the launch of the report, the chairperson of the NACD’s Consequences subcommittee, Liam O’Brien stated, “The findings reveal that there are a range of behaviors associated with drug use and its accompanying lifestyle which place an individual at risk of harm. While the research shows that participants use a range of strategies to reduce their risk of harm, their perception of risk is relative to the situations they find themselves in, thus making some risks acceptable or necessary.

 “Whilst it is clear that a key aim of the Irish National Drugs Strategy is to reduce the demand for drugs and prevent people from taking them in the first place, we must face the reality of why these people are taking drugs and putting themselves at risk of harm.”

NACD researcher, Dr. Teresa Whitaker stated,

“A dominant theme to emerge from the field work was that drug-using sex workers are vulnerable people with complex and multiple needs that span health, social and legal issues. For the most part, participants grew up in communities associated with social and economic marginalisation and high levels of unemployment. They move more or less continually through drug and alcohol services, homeless hostels, the judicial system and other social care agencies. Therefore, In order to enable individuals to effectively reduce their risk of harm, interventions towards the broader risk environment such as poverty, housing, health, educational needs and employment prospects are imperative.”

Arising from analysis of the research, the NACD recommends: 

  • Continued funding of existing services that deal with this client group: in the current economic climate it is absolutely essential to ensure that existing services are adequately funded.
  • That interventions are developed to address the social situations and places in which risks and harms are produced and reduced by targeting existing and developing street sex markets and peer networks of drug users and sex workers through funding outreach services (particularly out of hours) and developing secondary or peer-based outreach in areas of the city with known networks of drug-using sex workers.
  • Programmes (such as specialist CE schemes for drug users) aimed at getting drug users back to work should be continually funded.
  • Drug services must recognise their role in identifying male and female clients involved in sex work and providing advice on safer sex practices in order to reduce sexual risk in personal intimate relationships and commercial sex transactions.
  • Provision of flexible hostel accommodation for homeless (drug-using sex workers) as part of a range of suitable accommodations from low-threshold facilities to accommodation to facilitate recovery and rehabilitation.

Further Information

Annmarie Brennan / Ronan Cavanagh, Montague Communications:
(01) 830 3116 or (087) 260 5896 / (086) 317 9731

Notes to the Editor:

Research methodology

In order to explore the lived experience of drug-using sex workers a qualitative methodology was chosen. The individual face-to-face in-depth interview was the primary research tool used to collect qualitative data from drug-using sex workers and professionals.

In-depth interviews were carried out with 35 drug-using sex workers. In addition, biographical data were collected by means of a short questionnaire. The questionnaire also recorded information on participants’ recent drug use and offending behaviour. In-depth interviews were carried out with 40 professionals across sectors (community, voluntary and statutory) from a range of disciplines whose work either directly or indirectly impacts on drug-using sex workers.

In accordance with NACD policy on research, a Research Advisory Group (RAG), comprising representatives of the NACD and various relevant agencies and services, was established. The primary role of the RAG was to guide and manage the research project from inception to completion and to assist in locating and recruiting research participants.

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