The findings of a survey on attitudes to drugs and drug users by the general population were published in November 2016.1 The survey was carried out by Red C for CityWide Drug Crisis Campaign. It was an online national omnibus survey with a nationally representative sample of 1035 adults. The topics covered included respondents’ own drug use, various attitudes and beliefs about drugs and drug users, their place in society, and the decriminalisation of drug use. Some key findings are presented below.
Respondents’ drug use
- One-third (31%) of respondents reported that they had ever used an illegal drug.
- One per cent of respondents described themselves as ‘regular users’ and 17% as having used them either ‘once or twice’.
Attitudes and beliefs about drugs and their use
- There were high levels of agreement that drugs are a problem in Irish society: 88% of respondents agreed that drug-related crime is a major problem in Ireland, and 87% agreed that the availability of illegal drugs poses a great threat to young people nowadays.
- Two-thirds (66%) agreed that alcohol abuse causes more problems in society than drug abuse.
- Two-thirds (66%) agreed that all illegal drugs are highly addictive and should be avoided.
- Those aged 18‒34 years were more likely than the overall population to regard using cannabis once a month or less as ‘not really dangerous to your health’ (47% vs 34%), and that it was normal that young people will try some drugs ‘at least once’ (e.g. cannabis/ecstasy) (59% vs 53%).
Attitudes and beliefs about drug users
- It was a commonly held belief (91%) that drug users come from all backgrounds and classes.
- Negative views of drug users were found: one-half (51%) of respondents agreed that drug users really scare them and just under two-thirds (64%) reported that it would bother them to live near somebody who is addicted to drugs.
- However, there were also some sympathetic views expressed about users. Four out of five people (81%) agreed that all drug users should have access to the treatment they require.
- More respondents disagreed (44%) than agreed (31%) that they saw people addicted to drugs more as criminals than victims
The public’s view on the decriminalisation of drug use was captured by first providing a brief description of what it would mean and then presenting two options:
Possession of illegal drugs, no matter how small the amount, is currently a criminal offence in Ireland. A conviction can stop a person being allowed to travel, get a visa, gain employment or access training. Many countries (including some in Europe) have decriminalised possession of small quantities of illegal drugs for personal use – which means instead of a conviction people can be fined or mandated to attend at a drug treatment programme. Production, trafficking/supply and possession of larger amounts would remain a serious criminal offence.
With this in mind, which of the following comes closest to your view on the issue of decriminalisation:
- The law in Ireland should stay as it currently is so that possession of illegal drugs remains a criminal offence.
- The law in Ireland should be changed so that the possession of small quantities of illegal drugs is ‘decriminalised’ as described.
Respondents were divided almost half and half in their response. Forty-nine per cent were in favour of changing the law, while 51% were not. Men (56%) and younger people aged between 18 and 34 years (58%) were more supportive of a move towards decriminalisation.
1. CityWide (2016) CityWide: attitude to drugs and drug users. Dublin: CityWide Drug Crisis Campaign and Red C Research & Marketing. http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/26840/