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.

Survey finds that 11% of the population have taken sedatives and tranquillisers. Nine percent of the population reported taking anti-depressants

 A major survey published today (26th March) by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD), found that 11% of the population have taken sedatives and tranquillisers at some stage in their lives, with 9% of respondents reporting that they had ever used anti-depressants. The findings also indicate that while 89% of current users got their sedatives or tranquillisers on prescription from the chemist, 11% of those using prescription medicines obtained them without a prescription.

These findings are amongst the key results contained in Bulletin 6: Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland 2006/2007 Drug Prevalence Survey: Sedatives or Tranquillisers, and Anti-depressants Results. The bulletin examines age of first use, frequency of use, method of taking them, how they were obtained and the profile of typical sedative or tranquilliser, and anti-depressant users. The bulletin also presents use on a lifetime (ever used), last year (recent use) and last month (current use) basis.

This is the second Drugs Prevalence Survey, following that commissioned in 2002/3 by the NACD in Ireland and the Public Health Information and Research Branch (PHIRB) in Northern Ireland. 

Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy John Curran T.D. welcomed the report and said that it illustrated the need to focus on legal as well as illegal drugs in addressing the overall problems of substance abuse in Ireland.

Commenting on the figures, NACD Chairperson, Dr Des Corrigan stated that the report found associations between gender and various indicators of deprivation and higher prevalence rates.

The findings indicate that long term state dependence, not being in paid work and lower levels of educational attainment are linked with higher prevalence rates.

The report also found that females are more likely than males to have ever used sedatives, tranquillisers and antidepressants with 6% of females reporting use in the last year as compared to 4% for males and lifetime use reported at 13% for females compared to 8% for males. Consequently, the over prescribing of benodiazepines (BZDs) among disadvantaged vulnerable groups, in particular, opiate dependent persons and females, is a major issue according to NACD. 

Another concern arising from the report may be issues in relation to the misuse of certain prescription only medicines, such as sedatives and tranquillisers/ BZDs. The study revealed that of those respondents who used sedatives or tranquillisers 7% got them from someone they knew and 2% bought them without a prescription at a chemist.

The NACD recommends that these findings be discussed with the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland as the pharmacy regulator and that the overall findings in the Bulletin are brought to the attention of the Irish Medicines Board (IMB) as the competent authority for Medicinal Products in Ireland.

Dr. Corrigan added that continued use of this type of survey is essential in picking up trends over time. Such general population surveys, which give a snapshot in time of what is happening in relation to drug use in the lives of ordinary households, can only realistically be conducted every four years or so. Meanwhile, he said that the NACD will be recommending the implementation of a Drug Trend Monitoring System as part of its submission to the Steering Group for the review of the National Drugs Strategy.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Prevalence rates were higher among older respondents – the lifetime prevalence rate for older adults aged 35-64 (15%) was more than twice that of young adults aged 15-34 (6%) for sedatives or tranquillisers and was also higher for those using anti-depressants (11% for older adults and 7% for younger adults).
  • Females reported higher prevalence rates than males for use of sedatives or tranquillisers, and anti-depressants across all time periods.
  • The average age respondents reported they had first used sedatives or tranquillisers was 29 years for males and 31 for females. The average age respondents reported they had first used anti-depressants was 34 years for males and 30 years for females.
  • A little more than half (57%) of current users of sedatives or tranquillisers, and nine-in-ten (91%) current users of antidepressants, took them daily or almost daily.
  • Most current users got their sedatives or tranquillisers (89%), and all (100%) got their anti-depressants, on prescription; however 11% reported getting sedatives or tranquillisers without a prescription.
  • Respondents who were separated or divorced reported higher prevalence rates for use of sedatives or tranquillisers, and anti-depressants across the three time periods.
  • Associations were found between various indicators of deprivation and higher prevalence rates. These indicators included: being dependent on the state long term, not being in paid work, lower levels of educational attainment and leaving education before 15 years of age.

Further Information

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

Notes to the Editor:

Survey Methodology

The general population survey is a collaborative project between the NACD and the Public Health Information and Research Branch(PHIRB), formerly known as the Drug and Alcohol Information and Research Unit (DAIRU) in Northern Ireland. The fieldwork was undertaken by IPSOS MORI in Ireland on behalf of the NACD and by the Central Survey Unit in Northern Ireland DAIRU over the same time period from October 2006 to May 2007. This survey updates information gathered in the previous survey carried out in 2002/2003.

A total number of 6,969 people aged 15-64 were surveyed on the island of Ireland (4,967) in Ireland and 2,002 in Northern Ireland) between October 2006 and May 2007.  A response rate of 65% was achieved in Ireland and 62% in Northern Ireland. Using the most recent census data, the sample was weighted by gender, age and former Health Board Areas in Ireland as these equate to the current Regional Drug Task Force areas to maximise its representativeness of the general population. The survey was carried out to the exacting standards set by the EMCDDA the EU drugs agency.

The same methodology was used as in 2002/3 differing only in the use of Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) on this occasion instead of pen and paper interviews.  This is more cost effective and provides higher quality control on data.  Only changes that are statistically significant at the 5% level at least are reported in the comparisons section for each jurisdiction and time period of use (lifetime, last year and last month).


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