In 2014, the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA) commissioned Ipsos MRBI to conduct the Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland: Drug Prevalence Survey 2014/15.1 This survey followed best practice guidelines recommended by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). The questionnaire, based on the European Model Questionnaire, was administered in face-to-face interviews with respondents aged 15+ years. A sample comprising all households throughout the island of Ireland was randomly selected to participate, and fieldwork began in September 2014 and was completed in May 2015. Of the household members contacted, 7005 agreed to take part. The sample was weighted by gender, age and region to ensure that it was representative of the general population. The main measures were lifetime use (ever used), use in the last year (recent use) and use in the last month (current use).
The NACDA has recently published Bulletin 2, detailing the prevalence of illicit substance and alcohol and tobacco use by Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force (RDATF) areas.2 This article highlights the major findings.
Illicit substance use
Figures 1 and 2 show RDTF areas within Ireland and the prevalence of any illegal drug use within RDTF areas. The results from the 2014/15 survey show that the prevalence of illicit substance use varies across task force areas. Lifetime use of any illegal drug was highest in the East Coast and Northern regions (41%) and lowest in the North Western RDTF (20%) area. Recent use of any illicit substance was highest in the South Western RDATF area (12%) and lowest in the Mid-Western region (5%). Current use was also highest in the South Western RDTF area (8%) and lowest in the Mid-Western RDTF (2%) area.
Cannabis was the most commonly used illicit substance in all areas in the year prior to the survey. After cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine were the most frequently reported drugs regarding recent use. When results were compared to the previous general population survey, which was conducted in 2010/11,3 findings showed an overall increase in recent and current use of cannabis and ecstasy for many regions. Exceptions were noted for the Mid-Western RDTF area, which has seen reductions (or similar rates) for recent and current use of cannabis and ecstasy. Recent use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) has decreased in all regions, possibly due to the introduction of the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010.4
As in previous surveys, males were more likely to use illicit substances than females, and younger adults (15‒34 years) were more likely to use illegal drugs than older subjects (35‒64 years), in all RDTF areas.
Alcohol and tobacco use
In 2016, alcohol prevalence ranged from 67% in the North Western RDTF area to 83% for the South Western area. Recent tobacco use was highest in the South Western region (35%) followed by the East Coast RDTF area (34%), and was lowest in the Southern RDTF area (28%). Recent and current alcohol prevalence was higher among young adults in some regions (Midland, North Eastern and North Western), while the opposite was the case in other regions (East Coast, Northern and Western). All of the remaining regions showed similar rates of recent and current alcohol use between younger and older adults.
For the first time, the NACDA prevalence survey included participants over the age of 65 years. In addition to showing no recent illegal drug use, the prevalence of recent alcohol and tobacco use was also lowest among this age group in all RDTF areas.
1 National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA) and Department of Health (UK) (2016) Prevalence of drug use and gambling in Ireland and drug use in Northern Ireland. Bulletin 1. Dublin: NACDA and Department of Health (UK). http://health.gov.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Bulletin-1.pdf and http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/26364/
2 National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA) & Department of Health (UK) (2017) Prevalence of drug use and gambling in Ireland and drug use in Northern Ireland 2014/15: Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force (Ireland) and Health and Social Care Trust (Northern Ireland) results. Bulletin 2. Dublin: NACDA and Department of Health (UK). http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/26901/
3 National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) and Public Health Information and Research Branch (PHIRB) (2011) Drug use in Ireland and Northern Ireland: first results from the 2010/11 Drug Prevalence Survey. Bulletin 1. Dublin: NACD & PHIRB. http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/16353
4 Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010. http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2010/act/22/enacted/en/html
Figure 1 Map of Ireland, showing Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force (RADTF)* areas
Source: NACDA, 2017
*RDTF areas: ECRDTF (East Coast), MRDTF (Midland), MWRDTF (Mid-Western), NERDTF (North Eastern), NWRDTF (North Western), NRDTF (Northern), SERDTF (South Eastern), SWRDTF (South Western), SRDTF (Southern), WRDTF (Western).
Figure 2 Lifetime, last year and last month prevalence of any* illicit drug use in Ireland by Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force areas, 2014/15
Source: NACDA, 2017
*Any illicit drug refers to the use of cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine powder, magic mushrooms, amphetamines, poppers, LSD, NPS, solvents, crack and heroin.