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 shows methadone treatment reduces drug use and involvement in crime

For release: 11am, Thursday, 26 April 2007

New research published today (Thursday, 26 April) shows that continued participation in a methadone programme substantially reduces individuals’ drug use and their involvement in acquisitive crime. The research, published in ROSIE (Research Outcome Study in Ireland Evaluating drug treatment effectiveness) Findings 4, was conducted by Dr Catherine Comiskey and NUI Maynooth and was commissioned by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) in 2002 as part of Action 99 of the National Drug Strategy

Noel Ahern T.D., Minister for State with responsibility for the National Drug Strategy, speaking at the launch said: “These findings are a clear indication that the treatment elements of the National Drugs Strategy are effective, leading to substantial reductions in drug use. The results show that people are being successfully retained in treatment, with only 12% having dropped out of treatment after one year.” (79% continued in methadone treatment, 3% completed treatment, 6% transferred to other treatments and 12% dropped out of treatment). 

Minister Ahern continued “The substantial reductions in drug consumption, particularly consumption of heroin, combined with the reported substantial decrease in involvement in crime by those on methadone treatment, are most heartening.  It is the intention of the Government to build on these positive results through greater focus on follow-on rehabilitation, as outlined in the Report of the Working Group on Drugs Rehabilitation which will be published soon.”

ROSIE Findings 4 indicates that participants in methadone treatment programmes showed a decrease in the use of key target drugs such as heroin, cocaine, non prescribed methadone and benzodiazepines – with heroin consumption reducing from 84% at treatment intake to 53% at one-year.  There was also a reduction in the percentage of participants reporting involvement in acquisitive crime, from 28% at treatment intake to 15% at one year. This includes participants who reported theft, handling stolen goods and soliciting.

Dr Des Corrigan, NACD Chairperson, commenting on the fact that 79% of the original participants in the study were still in treatment at the 1-year follow-up stage, said that the retention rates in this study are higher than in comparable studies. 

"For example in the UK, just over 50% of individuals were retained in methadone treatment after one year, while in Australia, only 44% were still enrolled in methadone programmes at one-year follow-up.  It is our view that the local availability of services in Ireland is the critical factor in achieving these high retention rates."

Other key findings from ROSIE 4 include:

  • A decrease in the number of participants who reported injecting drug use and in the frequency of injecting drug use was observed at one-year;
  • Injecting related risk behaviour was low at intake and remained stable over the time period being reported;
  • Participants’ physical and mental health symptoms still remained largely unchanged after the first year of methadone treatment.

For further information, please contact Pat Montague (087 2549123)/ Dave Gibney (087 7992480) at Montague Communications, tel. 01 8303116.

Notes to the Editor:

  • The Minister of State has responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy and Community Affairs at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and for Housing and Urban Renewal at the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
  • This research was commissioned by the NACD in 2002 and following open tender, the contract was awarded to Dr Catherine Comiskey and NUI Maynooth. 
  • The study is fulfilment of NACD responsibility in relation to Action 99 of the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008:  ' To commission further outcome studies within the Irish setting to establish the current impact of methadone treatment on both individual health and on offending behaviour.  Such studies should be an important tool in determining the long term value of this treatment.'
  • Fieldwork for the study started with recruitment in March 2003 into the pilot testing of the research instruments.  Full recruitment continued from September 2003 to July 2004. The ROSIE study recruited 404 opiate users on entry into three-index treatments; methadone maintenance/reduction (53.2%, n=215) structured detoxification (20%, n=81) and abstinence-based treatment (20.3%, n=82). In addition, a sub-sample of opiate users was recruited from needle-exchanges (6.4%, n=26). These modalities were part of the tender brief from the NACD as they were considered to represent the most widely implemented interventions for opiate users in Ireland.

Research Methodology:

The methodology used is a prospective, longitudinal, observational study.  Participants were interviewed at the three time periods using a pre-prepared interview schedule, which examined key outcome measures including:

  • Drug use (including drug type, frequency and quantity of use);
  • General health (a 10-point physical & psychological health assessment);
  • Social functioning (employment, accommodation, involvement in crime);
  • Harm (injecting behaviour & experience of overdose) and;
  • Mortality (participant/contact feedback & checking non-followed–up participants against General Death Register).

Acquisitive crime refers to all forms of theft, fraud and handling of stolen goods and does not include selling/supply of drugs or soliciting.


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