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.

Continuing drug use is one of the main reasons why homeless people remain homeless says NACD

Media Contact: Jane O’Dwyer (086 6491408) / Pat Montague (087 2549123) Montague Communications, tel. 01 8377960

Thursday, 14 April 2005 – Ireland’s first major report on drug use and homelessness has revealed that drug use and homelessness are clearly linked both complicating and aggravating one another. Launching the Report Drug Use Among the Homeless Population in Ireland, Mr Noel Ahern TD, Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy and Housing said “people who carry the burden of both problematic drug use and homelessness are particularly vulnerable. I welcome this timely research which provides much needed clarification on the nature and extent of drug misuse by this group. ”

The research was commissioned by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs in part fulfilment of Action 98 of the National Drug Strategy and carried out by Merchants Quay Ireland. It involved interviews with 355 homeless people across the country (70% were from Dublin) and 14 focus groups with 64 homeless and drug service providers.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Whilst drug use is not the primary reason for people becoming homeless, it is a key reason for them remaining homeless. The primary reason for becoming homeless was family conflict;
  • Other reasons for remaining homelessness include access to housing, money problems, family conflict and continuing alcohol use;
  • The prevalence of drug use within the homeless population was high with lifetime (74%), recent (64%) and current rates (52%) substantially higher than those found in the general population (19%, 6% and 3% respectively);
  • Cannabis was the most commonly used illicit drug followed by heroin over each time period – lifetime, last year (recent) and last month (current);
  • Alcohol remains the primary drug of choice among the homeless population (70%);
  • Over half (52%) of the homeless population surveyed are currently drug users;
  • 36% of those surveyed were problematic drug users;
  • 19% of the study population were currently injecting drugs, of these 1-in-2 injected in public spaces;
  • Those who reported current drug use on average used 3 different drugs;
  • 1-in-4 of current homeless drug users in Dublin used 5 or more different drugs;
  • Almost two thirds of those who reported current use of cocaine (17% currently using cocaine powder) were injecting it;
  • 30% of the study population have been diagnosed with a psychiatric illness;
  • 55% of the study population had been in prison.

Mairéad Lyons, Director NACD, said,

“With responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy and Housing, the Minister is uniquely placed to tackle the specific problems which badly affect homeless drug users. We are confident that the findings of this research will contribute to the development and planning of improved services to homeless drug users. We have outlined a series of recommendations covering four key areas: policy and planning, drug treatment, harm reduction and accommodation and housing.”

With regard to policy and planning, the NACD has primarily recommended that all homeless services and drug services should develop written policies that aim to positively include homeless drug users in their services - 86% of those surveyed cited stable accommodation as the primary service need. On this front, the NACD has recommended that protocols should be agreed with local authorities and other housing providers to ensure that people successfully completing transitional housing programmes can secure long-term accommodation. In the short-term, the NACD also recommends that access to an adequate supply of appropriate and flexible emergency accommodation should be ensured. Over the long term, an adequate supply of social and voluntary housing should be available.

For drug service providers, the main challenge reported was trying to meet the multiple needs of drug users. According to service providers, the quality of services offered to homeless drug users were often under-resourced and short-staffed.

For homeless service providers, current barriers they face include a lack of knowledge, training and experience around drug issues.

The NACD has recommended that together with a commitment to fund the professional development of both service providers, representatives from drug services and/ or drug task forces should be included in each Homeless Forum across the country in order to facilitate greater interagency co-operation. Equally, homeless service representatives should be included in Regional and Local Drug Task Forces.

Commenting on the report, Minister Ahern said “it is clear that the needs of homeless drug users pose a challenge to a number of Government Departments and Agencies, and on this front, I am pleased to note that there have been improvements in service delivery over the lifetime of this research. In addition, the findings have already fed into the Mid-Term Review of the National Drugs Strategy and will be considered as part of the Homeless Strategy Review.”


Notes to the Editor:

The Minister of State has responsibility for the 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 in 2002 and undertaken by the Research Unit in Merchants Quay Ireland. The Minister of State wrote to the NACD requesting us to investigate drug use among this vulnerable group. In addition, it is part fulfilment of our duties in relation to Action 98 of the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 To carry out studies on drug misuse amongst the at-risk groups identified e.g. Travellers, prostitutes, homeless, early school leavers etc including desegregation of data on these groups. It is essential that the individuals and groups most affected by drug misuse and those involved in working to reduce, treat and prevent drug misuse have immediate access to relevant information.

Following open tender, the contract was awarded to Merchants Quay Ireland. Two researchers within their Research Unit Ms Marie Lawless and Ms Caroline Corr carried out the research. The research was implemented under the guidance and support of a research advisory group, comprising representatives from Focus Ireland, ERHA, the NDST, Dublin Simon, the Homeless Persons Unit, Northern Area Health Board (Office of Special Needs and Drug Counselling), the Homeless Agency and the NACD.

Research methodology

A questionnaire was developed with the assistance of the research advisory group and looked for information on personal characteristics, accommodation types, experiences of homelessness, health (both physical and mental), income, drug and alcohol use, risk behaviours, contact with current services and self assessment of current needs.

Specific internationally recognised screening tools were used to determine problematic substance use. The AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test Screening Instrument) is a 10-item scale designed to screen for alcohol problems; the DAST (Drug Abuse Screening Test) is a 20-item scale which identifies problematic drug use was adapted to the circumstances of the study and reduced to 10-item scale; the SDS (Severity of Dependence Scale) is a 5-item scale designed to measure the degree of dependence on a variety of drugs.

Some 9 Fieldworkers were recruited who were not directly involved in the provision of homeless services and trained to carry out the survey. The data collection was staggered across different services and most surveys were administered upon recruitment given the chaotic lifestyle of the group.


As there is no definitive way of knowing the total homeless population due to its nature of being mobile and transient, quotas were determined for four urban areas – Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. The Dublin sample was guided by the ESRI / Homeless Agency Count of homeless persons referring only to those in contact with homeless services and comprising 3 variables: gender, age and primary accommodation type. In other urban areas quota sampling was employed broadly based on one accommodation type using data from local authority assessments of homelessness.

Each person interviewed was given a unique identifier to avoid being interviewed more than once in the survey.

Profile of Homeless Person in the Study:

The following is a brief description of the characteristics of the survey sample data was collected from 355 homeless persons:

  • Gender: 69% of the sample were male; 31% of the sample were female.
  • Age: The average age of males was 29 years and females 24 years.
  • Education: 25% had only primary education; 50% reached lower second level; 15% reached upper secondary; 6% reached third level and 4% other education such as FAS training and apprenticeships.
  • Employment: 66% were unemployed; 24% unable to work; 10% either working, retired, on training course or raising children.
  • Prison: 55% have been in prison.

Profile of Homeless Problematic Drug Users:

  • more likely to be poly drug users
  • more likely to be younger on average than the rest of the sample (aged 28 vs 33 years in rest of sample)
  • more likely to be first homeless at a younger age
  • more likely to be in B&B accommodation (28% vs 19% of rest of sample)
  • more likely to be sleeping rough (21% vs 16%)
  • more likely to be have experienced imprisonment.

Drug issues by main accommodation type:

  • Of hostel dwellers surveyed, 1-in-9 (11%) used 5 or more drugs and 1-in-3 (31%) scored as problematic drug users
  • Of B&B dwellers surveyed, 1-in-6 (17%) used 5 or more drugs and 1-in-2 (51%) scored as problematic drug users
  • Of rough sleepers surveyed, 1-in-5 (20%) used 5 or more drugs and almost 1-in-2 (46%) scored as problematic drug users


For further information, please contact Jane O’Dwyer (086 6491408) / Pat Montague (087 2549123) at Montague Communications, tel. 01 8377960.

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