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Publication of National Drug and Alcohol Survey 2019/20 by Health Research Board

Frank Feighan TD, Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy has welcomed the publication by the Health Research Board of the National Drug and Alcohol Survey 2019/20, and the decrease in the use of cannabis and the instances of Cannabis Use Disorder when compared to the 2014/15 survey.

The National Drug and Alcohol Survey (previously referred to as the Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland Drug Prevalence Survey) is funded by the Department of Health and managed by the Health Research Board. The survey provides information on alcohol, tobacco, and drug use amongst the general population in Ireland. It also looks at attitudes and perceptions of drug, alcohol and tobacco use and the impact on communities.

The Department of Health has commenced a mid-term review of the actions in the National Drugs Strategy in consultation with stakeholders. The review will provide an opportunity to reflect on progress in implementing the strategy to date, the progress achieved under the current action plan and allow the identification of any new issues that have arisen and to consider the development of new actions to address emerging needs and challenges. The National Drug and Alcohol Survey provides important and timely data regarding drug use in Ireland, which will assist in ongoing policy development through the mid-term review.

Minster Feighan said:

“I welcome the publication of National Drug and Alcohol Survey which provides us with up-to-date evidence to guide our ongoing policy development and service delivery. The publication of this important survey will play a key role in guiding the path forward and highlighting those areas which require our attention.”

The survey’s findings include the following:

  • Overall, the use of illegal drugs has remained at a similar same level to that recorded in the 2014/15 survey. An increase has been seen, however, in the use of cocaine and ecstasy.
  • Cocaine use has increased across all age groups. Men aged 25 to 34 are most likely to report cocaine use in the last year. The findings of the 2019/20 survey represent a significant increase in use when compared to the same cohort in the 2014/15 survey.
  • Ecstasy is the second most commonly used drug in the last 12 months after cannabis and has increased in prevalence from 1.8 to 2.2%. The recent use of ecstasy among 15 to 64 year olds has risen from 2.1% to 2.7% when compared to the findings of the 2014/15 survey.
  • While cannabis is the most prevalent illegal drug in Ireland, the use of cannabis has shown a decrease from 6.5% to 5.9% when compared to the 2014/15 survey. A significant decrease in the instances of Cannabis Use Disorder has also been recorded.
  • The majority of respondents, 70.9%, expressed disapproval or strong disapproval for smoking cannabis regularly and there is a low level of support (26.2%) for permitting cannabis for recreational use.
  • Polydrug use has increased when compared to the 2014/15 survey; in 2019/20, one-quarter of those who reported illegal drug use reported use of at least three illegal drugs, compared with 15.4% in 2014/15

Minster Feighan said:

“While it is positive to see the overall use of illegal drugs remain at a stable level, there are worrying trends regarding the increase in the use of cocaine, ecstasy, and the prevalence of polydrug use.These trends will be addressed as part of the mid-term review of our National Drugs Strategy.”

“The increase in the use of ecstasy underlines the need for effective harm reduction measures which make our night-time economy a safer place. The Department of Health has provided funding to the HSE to develop a national harm reduction campaign to raise awareness of the risks associated with drug use which will be publicly available later this year.”

“I am pleased, however, to see a decrease not only in the use of cannabis, but also in the instances of Cannabis Use Disorder when compared to the 2014/15 survey. I also note that that there is little support for permitting cannabis to be used recreationally; the dangers of this drug have been well documented.”

When asked how those addicted to drugs were perceived, the most common response in the 2019/20 survey was for them to be considered ‘more as a patient’ (46.6%) than as a criminal (8.5%). This response shows an increase when compared to the same question in 2014/15 survey. This represents a strong endorsement of the health led approach as set out in the National Drugs Strategy which promotes a more compassionate and humane approach to people who use drugs, with drug use treated first and foremost as a public health issue.

Minister Feighan said:

“I am committed to a health-led approach to drug use. The Department of Health is leading on the implementation of the Health Diversion Programme for individuals found in possession of drugs for personal use, which will offer compassion, not punishment, to people who use drugs. I look forward to the commencement of the Health Diversion Programme in 2021.”

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