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.

Research on drug prevalence in regional drugs task force areas launched

Issued by The National Advisory Committee on Drugs
News Release: Wednesday June 25, 2008.

The Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, John Curran TD, has today (Wednesday, 25 June) released further results from the National Drug Prevalence Survey in Ireland 2006/7 analysed by Regional Drugs Task Force (RDTF)area. 

The information contained in Bulletin 2, Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland 2006/2007: Drug Prevalence Survey: Regional Drugs Task Force (Ireland) & Health and Social Services Board (Northern Ireland) Results, provides a regional breakdown of prevalence rates for use of all illegal drugs, tobacco, alcohol, sedatives and tranquillisers, anti-depressants and anabolic steroids.

This Bulletin is from the second Household Drugs Prevalence Survey, following a similar piece of research commissioned in 2002/3 by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) in Ireland and the Public Health Information and Research Branch (PHIRB) of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland.

Speaking at the release of the regional figures, Minister Curran welcomed the Bulletin, stating that the survey provided the Government with very valuable information on drug prevalence throughout the country, and also highlighted the changes that had occurred since the first such survey in 2002/3. 

“The report highlights significant increases in lifetime use of illegal drugs among all adults aged 15-64 in the East Coast, the Midland and the Western RDTF areas.   However, decreases in the lifetime use of amphetamines and LSD in the South Western RDTF and in lifetime use of alcohol in the Southern RDTF shows promise. 

“This survey confirms that illegal drug use is a nationwide problem and highlights the need for a sustained commitment to tackle the problem in the years ahead,” Minister Curran said, and added that “the data will be very useful in the context of the review of the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 which is currently underway and in the preparation of a new drugs strategy for the period 2009-2016.”

Presenting the findings NACD, Director, Mairéad Lyons stated that:

  • Lifetime use of any illegal drugs varied across RDTF areas ranging from 38% in the East Coast RDTF to as low as 14% in the North Western RDTF.
  • Cannabis was the most commonly used illegal drug in all RDTF areas across all time periods.
  • Prevalence rates for all other illegal drugs were considerably lower than the rates for cannabis use in all RDTF areas.
  • In RDTF areas cocaine ranks, on average, the 4th most commonly used drug after cannabis (1st), magic mushrooms (2nd) and ecstasy (3rd) for lifetime use. 
  • Last year use of cocaine on average ranks second after cannabis and followed by ecstasy (3rd) and magic mushrooms (4th).
  • The profile of illegal drug users was similar areas across RDTFs: more men than women and more young adults than older adults use illegal drugs. 
  • Prevalence tended to be higher in the Eastern and Southern region of the country from Louth to Cork.z

As one would expect, increases in lifetime use were observed since the previous survey in 2002/3 across a range of illegal drugs among all adults aged 15-64 including:

  • Lifetime use of cocaine increased significantly in 5 RDTF areas.
  • Lifetime use of magic mushrooms increased significantly in 3 RDTF areas.

Increases since 2002/3 (statistically significant)

  • Western RDTF, lifetime use of any illegal drug use: from 12.5% in 2002/3 to 23.3%  in 2006/7.  
  • Western RDTF lifetime use of cannabis from 12.0% 2002/3  to  21.0%  in 2006/7. 

Increases since 2002/3 (statistically significant) 

  • East Coast RDTF, last year use of any illegal drug use: from 6.3% in 2002/3 to 12.4% in 2006/7.
  • East Coast RDTF, last year use of cannabis use: from 6.1% in 2002/3 to 11.3% in 2006/7.

Statistically significant decreases since 2002/3 were observed in some areas:

  • Lifetime use of amphetamines, LSD and tobacco in the South Western RDTF area.
  • Lifetime use of alcohol in the Southern RDTF area. This RDTF also had a decrease in last month use of alcohol among women.

Further analysis of the data is ongoing and forthcoming bulletins on cannabis and cocaine will provide detail in relation to age of first use, socio economic and educational background together with analysis of attitudes to drug use.

Commenting on the findings NACD Chairperson, Dr. Des Corrigan noted that the Western, South Eastern, Mid Western and North Western show higher prevalence for lifetime and last year use of anti-depressants.

“When the data is mapped, the figures indicate that highly populated areas have, in general, higher prevalence rates of illegal drug use. Conversely, less densely populated areas have higher prevalence rates for sedatives and tranquillisers as well as for anti-depressants.

These findings indicate that a closer examination of the issue of poly drug use including alcohol, sedatives, tranquillisers and anti-depressants is needed to understand the underlying cultural issues that exist in some regions."

He noted that the high levels of alcohol use reported in the Bulletin as well as the above average levels of use of some illicit drugs in young males in particular highlight the challenges Irish society faces in the prevention and treatment of poly drug use in the years ahead.

Dr. Corrigan added that continued use of this type of survey is essential in picking up trends over time.

“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 and should be continued into the future.”

Please note the full details of the research are available on the NACD website at

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 NACD repeated the National Drug Prevalence Survey last year and produced National Prevalence figures in Bulletin 1 in January 2008. This survey is a joint venture with colleagues in the Public Information and Health Research Branch (PHIRB) formerly the Drug and Alcohol Research Information Unit (DAIRU) within the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland. On this occasion, the fieldwork was carried out by Ipsos MORI in Ireland and by the Central Survey Unit of the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency in Northern Ireland. 

A total number of 6,969 people aged 15-64 were surveyed on the island of Ireland 4,967in 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 area in Ireland because these equate to the current Regional Drugs Task Force areas and to ensure that the results are representative of the general population to the maximum extent possible.  The survey was carried out to the exacting standards set by the EU Drugs Agency (the EMCDDA).

The same methodology was used as in the original 2002/3 survey 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. The questionnaire & the methodology used represent best practice as outlined by the EU’s Drugs Agency, the EMCDDA based in Lisbon. 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).

Regional Drugs Task Force Areas

The National Drugs Strategy has established 10 Regional Drugs Task Forces areas since 2000. Their boundaries corresponded with the former Health Board areas. Since January 2005 the Health Boards in Ireland have undergone restructuring and are merged under one authority – the Health Service Executive. However, for the purpose of comparison with 2002/3 data, we have continued to weight the data by the former Health Board areas but named the areas by Regional Drugs Task Force (RDTF). The reference for the 2002/2003 data is:  Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland 2002/2003 Drug Prevalence Survey – Health Board (Ireland) & Health and Social Services Board (Northern Ireland) Results (Revised) June, 2005. Bulletin 2.

Heroin and Crack Cocaine Use

The population survey is a drug prevalence survey and is intended to reflect drug use in the general population as a whole.  For the purposes of this survey, we take the general population to mean those aged 15-64 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.  Other methodologies are used to establish information on hidden populations of problematic drug use such as those using heroin and crack cocaine.  Examples include:

  • The capture recapture study on problem opiate use published by the NACD in 2003 (title: Prevalence of Opiate Use in Ireland 2000-2001 A 3-Source Capture Recapture Study) provided estimates of heroin use in Ireland (this study is also being repeated).
  • Treatment demand indicators such as the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (managed by the Health Research Board).

Comparisons RDTFs and HSSB areas

Ireland and Northern shared the same spread of lifetime prevalence across RDTFs and HSSB areas with a greater concentration to the East of the countries.  The difference between the highest and lowest prevalence rate was smaller in the HSSB areas than in the RDTF areas reflecting difference in population density between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Cannabis was the most commonly used illegal drug across all RDTF and HSSB areas The profile of drugs users was consistent in both countries with men more likely than women and young adults more likely than older adults to have used an illegal drug in their lifetime.


Pat Montague, Montague Communications, 01 830 3116 / 087 254 9123
Elaine Ryan, Montague Communications, 01 830 3116 / 087 295 1096

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