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 report shows little increase in recent and current illegal drug use in Ireland since 2002/2003

  • For release: 9.30am, Friday, 25 January 2008

The number of people who report ever using any illegal drug (lifetime prevalence) in Ireland has increased from 18.5% of the population in 2002/3 to 24% in 2006/7.  However, there has been no comparable increase in recent (last year) and/or current (last month) use according to a new report published today (Friday, 25 January) by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD).  This information is contained in Bulletin 1 of the Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland: First Results from the 2006/2007 Drug Prevalence Survey launched by Mr. Pat Carey, T.D., Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy.

This is the second Drugs Prevalence Survey, following that commissioned in 2002/3 by the NACD in Ireland and the Drug and Alcohol Information and Research Unit (DAIRU) in Northern Ireland. The main focus of these surveys is to obtain prevalence rates for key illegal drugs, such as cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin, on a lifetime, last year, and last month basis. 

Speaking at the launch of the report, Minister Carey stated

“While cannabis continues to be the most commonly used illegal drug, cocaine use has grown, particularly among the young adult (15-34) population.  This finding is in line with a joint NACD/National Drugs Strategy Team (NDST) report on cocaine (An Overview of Cocaine Use in Ireland II) which was published last year, with the experiences of those working in the field and with expectations generally.  We are already progressing the recommendations of the earlier report in a determined and co-ordinated fashion.  Overall, this survey confirms the need for a targeted focus on prevention and its results are timely in regard to the work that has commenced on the development of the new National Drugs Strategy to cover the period 2009-16."


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

  • almost one in four people (24%) have ever used an illegal drug in Ireland;
  • one in fourteen (7%) had used an illegal drug in the last year in Ireland and
  • one in 30 (3%) had used an illegal drug in the last month in Ireland. 

As one would expect, increases in lifetime use were observed since the previous survey across a range of illegal drugs including:

Lifetime use

  • Any illegal drug, up from 18.5% in 2002/3 to 24% in 2006/7
  • Cannabis, up from 17.4% in 2002/3 to 21.9% in 2006/7;
  • Magic mushrooms, up from 3.9% in 2002/3 to 5.8% in 2006/7;
  • Ecstasy, up from 3.7% in 2002/3 to 5.4% in 2006/7;
  • Cocaine, up from 2.9% in 2002/3 to 5% in 2006/7.

Last year use (statistically significant changes)

  • Any illegal drugs (age 15-64), up from 5.6% in 2002/3 to 7.2% in 2006/7;
  • Any illegal drugs (age 25-34), up from 6.6% in 2002/3 to 9.2% in 2006/7;
  • Any illegal drugs (women), up from 3.4% in 2002/3 to 4.7% in 2006/7.

Commenting on the findings, Dr. Des Corrigan, Chairperson of the NACD, said that most people in Ireland have never used an illicit drug.  Dr. Corrigan explained that, in relation to current use (use in the last month), figures continue to be low showing little change since 2002/3 – indeed the last month use of any illegal drug decreased slightly from 3% to 2.9% over that period, while last month cannabis use was static at 2.6%.

In terms of age groups, lifetime prevalence for any illegal drugs was highest among those aged 25-34 years (34%); followed by those aged 15-24 years (28%) and those aged 35-44 years (27%). 

A higher proportion of men than women continue to report lifetime, last year and last month use of any illegal drugs.  Women and older adults report higher use of sedatives, tranquillisers and anti-depressants.

Dr. Corrigan said that, as with other surveys across Europe, people over the age of 64 are not included so that more meaningful results are obtained.  People of that age group grew up in an era when both the use and availability of illegal drugs were very limited. 

“Surveys of older people have, to date, shown very low rates of use even on a lifetime basis. This situation is likely to change over time as the younger population with more exposure to different drugs grows older. Hence lifetime prevalence rates are likely to increase for a considerable period of time”, he said.

In a European context Dr. Corrigan noted that not all EU countries used the standard approach to population surveys recommended by the EMCDDA which makes comparisons difficult, but that among those which did use the same approach as the NACD, Ireland was not at the top for any drug category.

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.

Generally, Ireland has marginally lower prevalence rates than Northern Ireland for lifetime and last year use.

Notes to the Editor

Survey Methodology

The general population survey is a collaborative project between NACD and 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 2002/3.

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 are 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 of for each jurisdiction and time period of use (lifetime, last year and last month).

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).

How Ireland Compares within the EU:

In a European context, Ireland’s drug prevalence ranking has remained broadly the same since 2002/2003. Currently lifetime use (all adults) in Ireland ranks 7th out of 19 for cannabis use, 4th for amphetamines, 4th for cocaine, and 3rd for both ecstasy and LSD.

Island-wide some of the key findings in Bulletin 1 include:

  • On the island of Ireland, 25% of all adults (15-64 years) reported ever having used any illegal drugs (24% in Ireland and 28% in Northern Ireland); 8% reported using any illegal drugs in the year prior to the survey (7% in Ireland and 9% in Northern Ireland); and 3% (3% in Ireland and 4% in Northern Ireland) reported using any illegal drugs in the month prior to the survey.
  • Cannabis was the most commonly used illegal drug with 23% of all adults reporting ever having used it;  7% reported cannabis use in the year prior to the survey and 3% in the month prior to the survey.
  • Lifetime prevalence rates for other illegal drugs on the island of Ireland were considerably lower than for cannabis:  ecstasy and magic mushrooms (each 6%), cocaine and poppers (each 5%), amphetamines and LSD (each 4%) and solvents (2%). 


Annmarie Brennan, Montague Communications, 01-8303116/086-2605896
Pat Montague, Montague Communications, 01-8303116/087-2549123

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