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 health board areas launched


The Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy, Noel Ahern TD, today (Monday, 19 April) launched results by health board area from the first Drug Prevalence Survey in Ireland. The launch took place in the Ballymascanlon Hotel, outside Dundalk, Co Louth.

This survey was commissioned jointly by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) in Ireland and the Drug and Alcohol Information and Research Unit (DAIRU) in Northern Ireland. A total number of 8,442 people aged 15-64 were surveyed by MORI MRC on behalf of the NACD and DAIRU (4,925 in Ireland and 3,517 in Northern Ireland) between October 2002 and April 2003.

Welcoming this Bulletin, the Minister of State Noel Ahern T.D. said that the survey provided the Government with excellent baseline information on drug prevalence that would be very useful in the context of the ongoing implementation of the National Drugs Strategy.

"Today we are launching the second set of figures from the national drug prevalence survey. The figures in Bulletin 2 give a regional breakdown of drug prevalence in Ireland based on health board areas thus adding significantly to our knowledge and understanding of drug use across the country. This survey confirms the fact that the vast majority of people in Ireland have never used illegal drugs."

"However, the results also highlight the fact that drug use is not confined to our major cities. Drug use is an issue for communities, both urban and rural, throughout the country and the Government are determined to tackle it at every level. The information contained in this Bulletin is particularly timely, as the mid-term review of the National Drug Strategy will take place later this year. I would like to congratulate all those involved in this research, in particular the steering group from the NACD and DAIRU,"

said Minister of State Ahern.

Key findings:

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

  • Lifetime illegal drug prevalence varied between 11% and 29% across health board areas.
  • The lowest rate of recent illegal drug use was recorded in the North Western Health Board (3%) and the highest rate recorded in the Northern Area Health Board (8%).
  • Prevalence rates of current drug use varied from 0.5% (North Western Health Board) to 5% (Northern Area Health Board).
  • Prevalence rates (lifetime, recent and current) tended to be higher in the Eastern part of the country.
  • Cannabis was the main illegal drug used on a lifetime, recent or current basis in all health board areas. Prevalence rates for cannabis were at least twice as high for other illegal drugs.
  • In almost all of the health board areas, the level of recent and current cannabis use was higher among young adults (15-34) than older adults (35-64).
  • Prevalence rates for other illegal drugs were considerably lower than for cannabis across all areas and periods of time (lifetime, recent and current). For example, the highest prevalence rate for recent use of ecstasy was 3% and cocaine (powder) 2% compared to 8% for cannabis.
  • The profile of illegal drug users showed a great deal of consistency across health boards - in almost all areas prevalence rates of lifetime, recent and current use were higher amongst men than women and higher amongst young people than older people.
  • Prevalence rates for sedatives, tranquillisers and anti-depressants were higher amongst older people and women in most areas.

In following the EMCDDA model questionnaire, questions on alcohol and tobacco use were also asked and prevalence rates for alcohol and tobacco use are provided in this Bulletin.Interrelationships between substance use as part of poly drug use will be further explored in a future Bulletin.

Dr Mary Ellen Mc Cann, Vice-Chairperson of the NACD speaking at the launch said

"The extent and pattern of drug use in the general population is one of the five key indicators relating to drug misuse produced by the EMCDDA and adopted by Member States under the EU Drug Strategy and Action Plan. It is the role of the NACD to ensure that reliable and comparable data is obtained for the Irish Government, which further enables reporting to the EU. The Drug Misuse Research Division (DMRD) of the Health Research Board, which is the National Focal Point for the EMCDDA has also played a key role in the development, implementation and analysis of this survey."

"This is the second bulletin to be published from the national drug prevalence survey. It provides policy makers, researchers and service providers with a unique insight into the levels of drug prevalence in health board areas across the country."

"The key findings of the research show that cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug. In addition, in almost all health board areas cannabis use is higher among young adults (15-34) than older adults (35-64). The research also indicates that in general, men report higher prevalence rates of drug use than women. And, on a regional basis, drug prevalence rates are higher in the Eastern part of the country."


  1. The first Irish household drug prevalence survey has been developed based on the guidelines produced by the EMCDDA which state as the main aims: 
    • To report prevalence and continuation rates of the most common illicit drugs in the general population by gender and age groups;
    • To allow cross country assessment of relationships between general patterns of use of illicit and licit drugs;
    • To allow the assessment of relationships between particular population attributes and the use of illicit drugs.
  2. The survey was carried out by MORI MRC using a pre-prepared questionnaire and face-to-face interviews (preferred method under EMCDDA guidelines) among the 15- 64 age group. The survey will enable the NACD to make comparisons across regions and to meet Government commitments to provide the EMCDDA with the relevant information.
  3. Fieldwork for the survey was carried out between October 2002 and April 2003 and the final sample was 8,442 (4,925 in Ireland and 3,517 in Northern Ireland). The response rate for the survey was 70% in Ireland and 63% in Northern Ireland.
  4. Using the most recent census data, the sample was weighted by gender, age and Health Board (Health and Social Services Board area in Northern Ireland), to maximise its representativeness of the general population.
  5. Full details of the methodology and copies of the questionnaires used in both jurisdictions will be published separately in a comprehensive technical report in due course.
  6. The following points should be noted when considering the information in the bulletin:
    • Prevalence rates for "any illegal drugs" refers to the reported use of one or more of the following: amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine powder, crack, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms, poppers or solvents - see table footnotes.
    • The drugs included under "other opiates" differed between Ireland and Northern Ireland - for full details see the footnotes to the tables.
    • Questions relating to anabolic steroids and Nubain were asked only in Northern Ireland, these drugs are not included in the calculation of the prevalence rates for any illegal drugs.
  7. As in all sample surveys, the greater the sample size the more statistically reliable are the results.
  8. Where no reported use is stated this indicates that no respondent in the survey reported use of a particular drug. It does not mean that there was no use of that drug in the area, although it does indicate low levels of use.

Bulletin 1 which provided a national picture of drug prevalence in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland was published in October 2003 and is available to download from our website or in hard copy from the office.

About the NACD and DAIRU

The NACD was established in July 2000 to advise the Irish Government in relation to the prevalence, prevention, treatment / rehabilitation and consequences of problem drug use in Ireland, based on the analysis of research findings and information. The NACD is overseeing the delivery of a work programme on the extent, nature, causes and effects of drug use in Ireland. The NACD comprises representatives nominated from relevant agencies and sectors, both statutory and non-statutory. The NACD reports to the Minister of State responsible for the National Drugs Strategy. The NACD has published several reports which are available on the website. Further information can be obtained from the website:

The DAIRU was established in May 2001 to develop and manage a programme of information and research work in support of the joint implementation of the Northern Ireland Executive's Drug and Alcohol Strategies, building on previous work to support the Drug Strategy alone. Both strategies highlight the need for detailed information on drug use and drinking patterns and behaviours in order to effectively target policy and practice. DAIRU is also involved in the evaluation of projects and initiatives funded through the Drug Strategy, management and development of the Northern Ireland Drug Misuse Database and dissemination of available information. DAIRU is located within the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Further information can be obtained from the DHSSPS website:

For further information in Ireland contact:

Pat Montague,
Montague Communications,
Tel: +353 1 837 7960
Mobile: +353 87 254 9123

For further information in Northern Ireland contact:

Mr Dave Rogers
Drug and Alcohol Information and Research Unit
Department of Health,
Social Services and Public Safety Annex 2,
Castle Buildings Stormont,
Tel: 048 9052 2501

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