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.

2014/15 Drugs survey reveals that levels of recent and current illegal drug use has risen

Men and those aged 15-24 have highest recent use of illegal drugs

Recent and current levels of illegal drug use have risen in Ireland between 2010/11 and 2014/15. This finding is revealed in the study Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland that was released today by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA) and the Public Health Information and Research Branch of the Department of Health in Northern Ireland.  (Full report at

The Chair of the NACDA Prof Catherine Comiskey stated: “While some legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco are included, the main focus of the survey was to obtain prevalence rates for illegal drugs, such as cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin on a lifetime (ever used), last year (recent use) and last month (current use) basis. It is significant that the level of recent and current drug use has risen between 2010/11 and 2014/15 for all illegal drugs.”

Prof Comiskey continued: “The overall prevalence rate for last year use of any illegal drug was 8.9% in 2014/15 compared with 7% in 2010/11. Cannabis continues to be the most commonly used illegal drug, with 27.9% of respondents aged 15-64 having ever used the drug, 7.7% reported having used cannabis in the last year and 4.4% in the last month. Use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) has dropped significantly, from 3.5% of respondents in 2010/11 having used NPS in the last year to 0.8% of respondents in the 2014/15 survey reporting use in the last year”.

The survey found that lifetime, last year and last month prevalence of ecstasy has increased significantly since 2010/11, with 4.4% of 15-34 year olds reporting use of ecstasy in the last year compared to 0.9% in 2010/11. In the 25-34 year old age group, 22.7% of males and 10.4% of females report ever using ecstasy.

Prevalence of gambling in Ireland was included in the survey for the first time. Results indicate that 64.5% of respondents aged 15 or older reported gambling in the 12 months prior to the survey and 41.4% of respondents reported gambling in the 30 days prior to the survey. Further detailed analysis of this section will be available in a future bulletin.

Speaking about the results of the survey in Northern Ireland, Dr. Mervyn Wilson of the PHIRB said “More than a quarter of people surveyed (28%) reported having used an illegal drug during their lifetime, with 6% having done so during the previous year and 3% during the last month. Cannabis was the most commonly reported illegal drug with a quarter of respondents (25%) reporting having ever used the drug, 5% reporting recent use and 3% reporting current use. After cannabis, the most commonly reported drugs ever used were ecstasy (10%), poppers (7%) and cocaine powder (7%).

Almost a quarter of respondents (24%) reported ever taking anti-depressants, while over a fifth reported taking other opiates (22%) and sedatives or tranquillisers (21%). There was a significant increase between 2010/11 to 2014/15 in the proportion of respondents who had taken other opiates across all prevalence periods and anti-depressants in both last year and last month prevalence.”

Minister Catherine Byrne who launched the report in Dublin today said “I welcome the publication of this Drug Prevalence Survey as it provides the best measure of the current illegal drugs situation in Ireland, thus informing policy formulation for the period ahead”. The Minister commented that: “While lifetime prevalence (which is a cumulative measure of the total number of people who have ever tried drugs and is thus expected to increase) is of interest, last year use is a much more appropriate indicator of drug trends.

The Minister continued “These new survey findings suggest that there is a continuing need for preventative measures under the National Drugs Strategy that focus on young people, particularly young men, their families and communities and that take account of the gendered nature of substance use”.

The key findings of the report:

  • 26.4% of Irish adults aged 15+ report using an illegal drug in their lifetime.
  • Lifetime usage of cannabis (24.0%) is considerably higher than any other form of drug. The second most commonly used drug is ecstasy (7.8%) with lifetime usage of cocaine (including crack) and cocaine powder at 6.6% and 6.4% respectively.
  • 7.5% of adults have used an illegal drug in the past 12 months. As with lifetime prevalence, usage of cannabis (6.5%) is far higher than any other drug, with ecstasy (1.8%), cocaine (including crack) (1.3%) and cocaine powder (1.2%) more commonly used than other forms of illegal drugs.
  • 1 in 4 males aged 15-24 have reported using an illegal drug in the last year, 1 in 5 males aged 25-34 reported using an illegal drug in the same period and approximately 1 in 8 females aged 15-24 reported using an illegal drug in the period.
  • 4.0% of all adults aged 15+ have used an illegal drug in the past month, equating to over half of those who have done so in the previous 12 months. Again, cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug with 3.7% using this within the past month.
  • Almost a fifth (19.9%) of Irish adults have used other opiates in the past month, with 43.4% doing so in the past 12 months and 61.5% having done so at some stage during their life. Results for other opiates are not comparable to previous waves of the survey due to wording and showcard changes.
  • Over 6 in 10 (62.1%) of Irish adults have consumed alcohol in the past month, with past year and lifetime usage at 77.0% and 82.8% respectively.
  • Just over a quarter (25.1%) have smoked a tobacco product in the past month, with twice as many (50.9%) having done so at some stage during their life.


Notes to 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 general population survey is a collaborative project between the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol and colleagues in the Public Information and Health Research Branch (PHIRB) within the Department of Health in Northern Ireland. On this occasion, the fieldwork was carried out by Ipsos MRBI in Ireland. This survey updates information gathered in the previous surveys carried out in 2002/03, 2006/07 and 2010/2011.

The survey was carried out to the exacting standards set by the EU Drugs Agency (the EMCDDA).

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+ 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.

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