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Country overview: Ireland

  • Situation summary

Contents

Key figures
  Year Ireland EU (28 countries) Source
Population  2013 4 591 087
505  665 739  Eurostat
Population by age classes 15–24  2013 11.7 %  11.5 %  Eurostat
25–49 37.7 %  35.0 % 
50–64 16.4 %  19.7 % 
GDP per capita in PPS (Purchasing Power Standards) 1  2012 129 100 Eurostat
Total expenditure on social protection (% of GDP) 2  2011 29.6 % p 29.0 % p Eurostat
Unemployment rate 3  2013 13.1 % 10.8 % Eurostat
Unemployment rate of population aged under 25 years  2013 26.8 % 23.4 % Eurostat
Prison population rate (per 100 000 of national population) 4  2012 94.3  : Council of Europe, SPACE I-2012
At risk of poverty rate 5  2012 : 17.0 % e SILC

p Eurostat provisional value.

e Estimated.

1 Gross domestic product (GDP) is a measure of economic activity. It is defined as the value of all goods and services produced less the value of any goods or services used in their creation. The volume index of GDP per capita in Purchasing Power Standards (PPS) is expressed in relation to the European Union (EU-27) average set to equal 100. If the index of a country is higher than 100, this country's level of GDP per head is higher than the EU average and vice versa.

2  Expenditure on social protection contains: benefits, which consist of transfers, in cash or in kind to households and individuals to relieve them of the burden of a defined set of risks or needs.

3 Unemployment rates represent unemployed persons as a percentage of the labour force. Unemployed persons comprise persons aged 15 to 74 who were: (a) without work during the reference week; (b) currently available for work; (c) actively seeking work.

4 Situation of penal institutions on 1 September, 2012.

5 Share of persons aged 0+ with an equivalent disposable income below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold, which is set at 60 % of the national median equivalised disposable income (after social transfers).

Drug use among the general population and young people

The first national survey on drug use among the general population was carried out in Ireland in 2002–03 among people aged 15–64. The results were jointly published by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACD) and the Drug and Alcohol Information and Research Unit (DAIRU) within the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland. This survey was repeated in 2006–07 and in 2010–11, interviewing 4 967 and 5 128 people respectively. The proportion of respondents who reported the use of any illicit drug during their lifetime increased from 24 % in 2006–07 to 27.2 % in 2010–11, while the proportion of those who reported use of an illicit drug during the last year and during the last month remained unchanged. In 2010–11 cannabis was the most frequently reported substance used during the lifetime, followed by ecstasy and cocaine. Cannabis use was more prevalent among males, and in younger age groups. Among young adults (aged 15–34) lifetime prevalence for cannabis use was 33.4 %, an increase on the previous survey, and last year prevalence remained stable at 10.3 %. Lifetime prevalence for cocaine use (including crack) increased to 6.4 %, from 5.1 % in 2006–07, while last year prevalence and last month prevalence decreased slightly. The lifetime prevalence rates for ecstasy use also increased compared to data from 2006–07; however, an almost threefold decline was observed over the four-year period in the proportion of those reporting recent and current use of ecstasy.

The latest Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey (including drug-related questions) was conducted in Ireland in 2009/10, and included questions on cannabis. It found that 15 % of those aged 15 to 16 reported using cannabis during their lifetime, compared with 24 % in 2006.

Data based on the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) surveys, conducted regularly since 1999 among 15- to 16-year-old students, reveal a downward trend in the lifetime prevalence rates of all surveyed substances. Thus the lifetime prevalence rate of cannabis decreased from 39 % in 2003 to 18 % in 2011. The second most commonly used substances are inhalants, with a lifetime prevalence of 9 % in 2011, down from 15 % in 2007. Results also indicated a decline in the last year and last month prevalence rates for cannabis use, with a more visible decline among females than males.

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Prevention

Drug prevention is one of the pillars of Ireland’s interim National Drugs Strategy 2009–16 (NDS). The strategy states that ‘a tiered or graduated approach to prevention and education measures in relation to drugs and alcohol should be developed with a view to providing a framework for the future design and development of interventions’. It identifies three levels in this framework:

  • Universal prevention programmes aimed at the general population to promote overall health and to prevent the onset of drug and alcohol misuse. Measures often associated with this type of programme include awareness campaigns, school drug/alcohol education programmes and multi-component community initiatives.
  • Selective prevention programmes, aimed at groups at risk, and subsets of the general population including children of drug users, early school leavers and those involved in antisocial behaviour, to reduce the effect of risk factors present in these subgroups by building on strengths and developing resilience and protective factors.
  • Indicated prevention programmes for people who have already started using drugs/alcohol, or who are likely/vulnerable to engage in problematic drug/alcohol use (but may not necessarily be drug/alcohol dependent), or to prevent relapse. These programmes are aimed at individuals or small groups and address specific needs.

In Ireland, young people and their families are the main target groups for drug prevention activities, which consist mainly of universal and selective prevention, with little focus on indicated prevention.

The NDS identifies as priorities for prevention improving the delivery of the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme in primary and post-primary schools, and coordinating the activities and funding of youth interventions in out-of-school settings to optimise their impacts. Drug prevention interventions in schools are delivered through the Walk Tall (primary schools) and SPHE (post-primary schools) programmes. The SPHE programme aims to improve social and personal competencies in students so they can understand and counter the many social influences that are seen as contributing to their use of drugs and alcohol. Research carried out in 2010 among a cohort of post-primary school students indicated that almost 90 % of students had received SPHE classes in 2009, and around 83 % of respondents noted that alcohol, drug and solvent abuse was the most emphasised theme in the syllabus. In the community, prevention programmes are provided in various settings, such as youth clubs and youth cafés, and by means of diversion activities provided by the statutory, voluntary and community sectors.

In 2009 around 84.0 % of primary schools and 55.1 % of post-secondary schools reported having a substance use policy in place, and the presence and effectiveness of substance use policies is also assessed during the whole-school evaluation.

A significant proportion of young people participate in community-based voluntary youth work activities, which aims to enhance their personal and social development. The recent evaluation of these programmes argues that, although they are general in nature, they might have contributed to the prevention of substance abuse among participating young people.

Selective prevention interventions are being developed to support the families of drugs users, and community development is acknowledged as an important step in building the capacity of local communities to avoid, or respond to and cope with, drug problems. Early school leavers and those outside formal education are targeted through measures such as the School Completion Programme and embedding the government’s Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) Action Plan, which tackles disadvantage among the school population in Local Drug Task Force (LDTF) areas. The DEIS continues to support some 151 000 children in 876 schools. Meanwhile, 46 000 at-risk children are directly targeted in schools through the Home School Community Liaison and School Completion programmes. The Strengthening Families programme, an internationally recognised parenting and family skills initiative for high-risk families, is implemented in several LDTF areas and has recently been evaluated.

The main target groups for indicated prevention are children with attention deficit disorders and behavioural problems and who abuse illicit and licit drugs, and teenagers from disadvantaged families.

The NDS proposes that preference be given to the development of timely awareness campaigns targeted in a way that takes individual, social and environmental conditions into account in key areas such as third-level institutions, workplaces, sports and other community and voluntary organisations. The bilingual website Drugs.ie is a central resource for drug and alcohol information and support. It is also used as a platform to raise awareness on new psychoactive substances, provide information on available services and disseminate guides and booklets. However, other web/based social networks are increasingly used to raise awareness and disseminate information on new trends and developments.

Quality standards with practical information on best practice in substance use education in Ireland have been published as a manual. It is based on a substantial review of international research and provides guidelines for the development and enhancement of substance use education in school, youth work and community-based settings. In 2013 guidelines to promote positive mental health among school students were launched.

View ‘Prevention profile’ for additional information.

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High-risk drug use

Up to 2012 the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) defined problem drug use as injecting drug use (IDU) or long duration/regular drug use of opiates, cocaine and/or amphetamines. Ecstasy and cannabis were not included in this category. However, in 2012 a new definition of ‘high-risk drug use’ was adopted. The new definition includes ‘problem drug use’, but is broader (mainly in its inclusion of high-risk use of more substances). Details are available here.

A 2006 capture-recapture study estimated a total number of 20 790 opiate users (range: 18 136 to 23 576), or 7.2 per 1 000 population aged 15–64 (range: 6.2 to 8.10), with two-thirds of the estimated users being from Dublin. The new estimate of the number of opiate users is to be completed in 2014.

Based on 2010–11 general population study data, it is estimated that 0.4 % of 15- to 64-year-olds in Ireland use cannabis daily or almost daily.

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Treatment demand

Treatment demand data are collected from agencies in Ireland that report to the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS). The system collects data from outpatient and inpatient facilities, low-threshold methadone maintenance units, crisis counselling units, general practitioners and treatment units in prisons. In 2012 a total of 573 of the 717 treatment services reported to the NDTRS.

In 2012 a total of 7 703 clients entered treatment, of whom 3 270 were new clients entering treatment for the first time. Data regarding all treatment clients suggest that for 52 % opiate was their main problem drug, followed by cannabis at 29 % and cocaine at 9 %. Among new treatment clients, for 46 % cannabis was their main problem drug, followed by opiates at 32 % and cocaine at 9 %. Around 42 % of all and 34 % of new treatment clients whose primary drug is opiate injects it, while the injection of other substances (cocaine) is extremely rare.

In 2012 some 35 % of all clients entering treatment were under the age of 25. New treatment clients tended to be younger, with 49 % under 25. With regard to gender distribution, among all clients entering treatment 73 % were male and 27 % were female. A similar gender distribution was also reported among new treatment clients, with 75 % male and 25 % female.

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Drug-related infectious diseases

Data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) indicate that in 2012, among 341 people newly diagnosed with HIV, there were 13 reported cases of HIV among injecting drug users, indicating a decrease compared with previous years (16 in 2011; 22 in 2010; 30 in 2009; 36 in 2008; 50 in 2007).

According to the data from HPSC, a risk factor was reported for 637 cases of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, and of these 76 % reported injecting drug use as their main risk factor. High-risk injecting practices and increased time spent in prison have been associated with a positive HCV status among people who inject drugs in Ireland. With regard to hepatitis B virus (HBV), a downward trend in the number of notifications has been noted between 2008 and 2011 (803 in 2009; 645 in 2010; 525 in 2011; 581 in 2012). It is thought that sexual transmission continues to be the predominant mode of transmission; however, for more than a half of the notifications the transmission route remains unknown. Self-reported data gathered from harm reduction services’ clients in 2012 indicated HIV prevalence at 8 %, HBV at 5 % and HCV at 45 % among clients who had ever been tested.

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Drug-induced deaths and mortality among drug users

Direct drug-induced deaths are those occurring as a result of overdose. In Ireland the data are collected and reported by the National Drug-Related Death Index. Data extraction and reporting is in line with the EMCDDA definitions for selection D and recommendations.

The number of cases in Selection D has fluctuated between 1998 (104 cases) and 2003 (108 cases); however, since 2003 the number of cases (mainly due to opioids, frequently as polysubstance poisoning) has increased, from 108 in 2003 to 220 in 2011. The majority of all deceased were male (173 of cases). On average, victims were 35.6 years old. A total of 199 deaths had known toxicology results, the majority (181) of which found to have opioids, while more than two-thirds of cases were attributed to polydrug use. Methadone was present in about 113 deaths recorded in 2011, which is twice the number recorded in 2010.

The drug-induced mortality rate among adults (aged 15–64) was 70.5 deaths per million in 2011, more than four time the 2012 European average of 17.1 deaths per million.

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Treatment responses

In Ireland the Department of Health is responsible for developing and reviewing drug treatment policy and strategy, while the Health Service Executive (HSE), which manages Ireland’s public health sector, is responsible for implementing this treatment strategy and preparation of annual National Service Plans. Drug treatment is provided through four HSE regions and 32 local health offices. The management of all addiction services falls under the remit of Primary, Community and Continuing Care, which oversees a number of national care groups. Funding for treatment is generally provided by the statutory sector through the HSE; however, in some cases individuals are obliged to contribute to the cost of drug treatment (excluding methadone maintenance treatment), usually through private medical care plans.

Treatment is provided through a network of statutory and non-statutory agencies. Medication-assisted treatment includes opiate detoxification and opioid substitution therapies, alcohol and benzodiazepine detoxification, and psychiatric treatment. Medication-free therapy uses models such as therapeutic communities and the Minnesota Model, frequently adapted to the needs of the clients. Various types of counselling are provided through both philosophies of treatment and independent of either type of treatment.

Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, are provided through both statutory and community projects in Dublin. Furthermore, pregnant opiate users are entitled to immediate access to treatment. There are also specific initiatives available for drug users under the age of 18. These include psychiatric therapy, family therapy, specially adapted medication-free therapy and guidelines around the use of medication. The total number of drug treatment services available in Ireland showed a strong increase between 1998 and 2004, with the largest expansion in the outpatient sector.

The integrated care pathways model was recently piloted in Ireland and it also forms the conceptual basis for the National Drug Rehabilitation Framework published in 2010.

Three inpatient units and a number of outpatient treatment centres provide detoxification for problem opioid users. Opioid substitution treatment (OST) is provided by treatment centres, specialised general practitioners (GPs) and in prisons. Methadone, introduced in 1992, is the most commonly used agent for opioid detoxification and substitution treatment. As of 31 December 2012 a total of 8 923 clients enrolled in OST received methadone. In order to improve the quality of OST, new guidelines for prescribing methadone in pregnancy were issued in 2013, while the first national clinical guidelines for opioid treatment are under revision.

In July 2009 a feasibility study began on the use of suboxone treatment as an alternative to methadone. It was conducted at several specialist addiction centres in Dublin and a number of Level II GP practices in Dublin and around the country. An independent evaluation conducted in 2010/2011 found that 139 patients were registered as having received suboxone treatment between 2006 and 2011. In 2010 the Department of Health set up an expert group to examine the regulatory framework for products containing buprenorphine/naloxone and buprenorphine only for the treatment of opioid dependence. Based on relevant documents and on the evaluation of the feasibility study for suboxone, the group defined the circumstances under which the use of the buprenorphine/naloxone combination is appropriate, while recommending the use of methadone as the drug of first choice.

View ‘Treatment profile’ for additional information.

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Harm reduction responses

Needle and syringe exchange services were first provided in 1989, when five exchanges were established. There are two models of service operating: fixed-site exchanges (24 sites), and home visit exchanges, or ‘backpacking’ (4 sites). In 2009 the HSE in cooperation with the Irish Pharmacy Foundation announced a project to provide needle and syringe exchange through community-based pharmacies, and in 2012 some 63 pharmacy-based sites were operating across Ireland. The 2012 estimate indicates that the needle and syringe programmes served about 11.6 thousand clients and distributed nearly 274 000 syringes.

Services provide a range of sterile injecting equipment and materials. All existing services provide different sizes and types of needle and syringe, as well as alcohol swabs and citric or acetic acid. Condoms, stericups or cookers and sterile water, non-toxic foil (for smoking heroin), syringe identifiers and tourniquets are available through the needle and syringe programmes. However, no service provides single-use injecting packs, crack pipes or straws.

In Ireland the HBV vaccine is recommended for several high-risk groups, including prisoners and injecting drug users.

On 9 August 2005 the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children introduced a new statutory instrument, the Medical Products (Prescription and Control of Supply) (Amendment) Regulations 2005. This permits the supply and administration of a number of medicinal products (including naloxone, for the management of respiratory depression secondary to a known or suspected narcotic overdose) by pre-hospital emergency care providers in specific conditions.

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Drug markets and drug-law offences

The main source of information on drug offences in Ireland is the Central Statistics Office, while data on drug seizures come from the Garda Síochána and the Irish Customs Drug Law Enforcement. In 2014, however, the first comprehensive study of the Irish illicit drug market is due to be published by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol and the Health Research Board. The study examines the nature and organisation of the Irish drugs market, analyses different factors influencing its development and the impact of drug trafficking on local communities, and assesses different interventions.

The total number of drug seizures increased between 2005 and 2007, decreased in 2008 and 2009 down to 5 494 seizures, and remained fairly stable for the period 2010–12. This trend can partly be explained by the trend in cannabis seizures. Although cannabis seizures account for the largest proportion of all drug seizures, the total number of cannabis seizures reported was fewer in 2012 than in 2005–08, but more than in 2009–10. Another explanation for the declining trend is the significant decline in cocaine and heroin seizures. Between 2001–07 the number of cocaine seizures showed a strong upward trend, increasing from 300 in 2001 to 1 749 in 2007. The quantity of cocaine seized has increased steadily since 2001, from 5 kg in 2001 to 1 752 kg in 2007. However, there has been a downward trend in the number of seizures since 2008. Although the quantity of cocaine seized dropped to 94 kg in 2010, in 2011 it almost doubled to 179 kg and in 2012 a total of 459 kg of cocaine was seized. The number of heroin seizures increased from 209 in 1995 to a peak of 1 698 in 2007, and declined thereafter to 752 in 2011. In 2012 a total of 766 seizures were reported. The quantity of heroin seized has fluctuated from year to year. Between 1995 and 2008 it increased significantly, from 6 kg to 207 kg, while in 2010 only 30 kg and in 2011 only 32 kg was seized. In 2012 a total of 60 kg of heroin was seized. The number of cannabis resin seizures decreased between 2009 and 2012; however, the number of cannabis plant seizures has steadily increased since 2006 and a record amount of 11 601 plants were seized in 2012. The number of herbal cannabis seizures almost doubled between 2009 and 2011, from 981 to 1 833, and in 2012 a total of 1 843 herbal cannabis seizures were recorded. The amount of seized herbal cannabis also doubled between 2010 and 2011; however, some reduction was noted in 2012. Seizures of ecstasy-type stimulants decreased significantly between 2008 and 2010; however, in 2011 and 2012 an upward trend in the number of seizures and seized amounts of these substances was noted.

The vast majority of drug-law offences reported come under one of three sections of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977: Section 3 — possession of any controlled drug without due authorisation; Section 15 — possession of a controlled drug for the purpose of unlawful sale or supply; and Section 21 — obstructing the lawful exercise of a power conferred by the Act. Other offences regularly reported relate to the unlawful importation of controlled drugs contrary to Section 5; the use of forged prescriptions (Section 18); and the cultivation of cannabis plants (Section 17). Data reported by the Irish Central Statistics Office regarding drug-law offences in 2011 reported that there were a total of 11 250 drug-law offences, of which the majority were linked to possession for personal use related offences.

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National drug laws

Possession of any controlled substance without due authorisation is an offence under the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 and 1984. The drugs to which the Acts apply are listed in their schedules, together with some generic definitions of families of substances. The legislation makes a distinction between possession for personal use and possession for sale or supply.

Penalties for possession for personal use depend on the type of drug (cannabis or other drugs) and on the penal proceedings, i.e. whether a summary conviction or a conviction on indictment. Possession of cannabis or cannabis resin for personal use is punishable by a fine on first or second conviction, but from a third offence onwards it incurs a fine and/or a term of imprisonment of up to one year for a summary conviction and up to three years for conviction on indictment. Possession in any other case can incur a penalty of imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine on summary conviction and up to seven years for conviction on indictment. However, the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act 2011 requires courts to consider imposing a community service order instead of a prison sentence in all cases where up to 12 months’ imprisonment might have been deemed appropriate. A Drug Treatment Court (DTC) based in Dublin has been running since 2001 and was last reviewed in 2010 by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; recommendations from that review have been implemented since then. The response to a more recent review of the DTC submitted to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in 2013 is currently awaited.

With regard to drug trafficking, different penalties can be imposed according to the circumstances of the offender, the type of drugs and the quantity involved, matters to be determined at trial with the appropriate sentence at the discretion of the judge. Possession for sale or supply can attract penalties of up to life imprisonment, with a presumptive mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for the possession of drugs with a market value of at least EUR 13 000. In 2013 the Law Reform Commission, an independent statutory body established by the Law Reform Commission Act 1975, recommended repeal of this presumptive sentencing regime. The Criminal Justice Act 2006 included provisions in relation to a Drug Offenders Register, but eventually these were not implemented.

In response to new psychoactive substances being sold in so-called ‘head shops’, in 2010 more than 200 individual substances were brought under control with a Declaration Order under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. Following the Declaration Order, the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 was passed to allow courts to intervene quickly and issue prohibition notices and orders for smuggling, trading, advertising and production of any harmful new psychoactive substances not specifically proscribed under the Misuse of Drugs Acts.

View the European Legal Database on Drugs (ELDD) for additional information.

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National drug strategy

Ireland’s National Drugs Strategy (Interim) 2009–16 was launched on 10 September 2009. The overall strategic aim is to continue to tackle the harm caused to individuals and society by the misuse of drugs, through a concerted focus on the five pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research. Five strategic aims are set out:

  1. To create a safer society through the reduction of the supply and availability of drugs for illicit use.
  2. To minimise problem drug use throughout society.
  3. To provide appropriate and timely substance treatment and rehabilitation services (including harm reduction services) tailored to individual needs.
  4. To ensure the availability of accurate, timely, relevant and comparable data on the extent and nature of problem substance use in Ireland.
  5. To have in place an efficient and effective framework for implementing the National Drugs Strategy 2009–16.

A set of specific objectives and key performance indicators are set out under each of the strategy’s five pillars. These are further elaborated through 63 actions spread across the different pillars, which list the agencies responsible for delivering them.

While the National Drugs Strategy is predominately focused on illicit drugs, Action 1 called for the establishment of a steering group to develop a national substance misuse strategy aimed at covering both illicit drugs and alcohol. The steering group’s report was launched on 7 February 2012 and proposals based on it are being developed by government.

View ‘National drug strategies’ for additional information.

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Coordination mechanism in the field of drugs

At the inter-ministerial level, drug policy is one of several areas that fall within the scope of the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion, Children and Integration, which is chaired by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister). The Committee is attended by the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Primary Care and the National Drugs Strategy.

The Department of Health is responsible for the day-to-day operational coordination of drug policy. It carries out its work in this area through two units: the Drugs Policy Unit, which is tasked with the overall implementation of the National Drugs Strategy and manages the Oversight Forum on Drugs; and the Drugs Programme Unit, which is responsible for the management and administration of funds for the Drugs Initiatives Programmes carried out in Drugs Task Force areas. It is also in charge of the National Co-ordinating Committee for Drug and Alcohol Task Forces.

The Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy carries out the function of national drugs coordinator on the political level, while the head of the Drugs Policy Unit performs the role of coordinator at the administrative level.

The Oversight Forum on Drugs, which operates at the inter-ministerial level and meets four times a year, is tasked with providing high-level monitoring of the drugs strategy. It is chaired by the Minister of State at the Department of Health and includes representatives from all sectors and bodies responsible for delivering the National Drugs Strategy.

The International Drug Issues Group is convened by the Drugs Policy Unit. The Group was established to coordinate Ireland’s participation in international drug policy issues. It meets on a quarterly basis and is comprised of representatives from the relevant government departments, agencies and statutory bodies.

The National Co-ordinating Committee for Drug and Alcohol Task Forces guides the work of the task forces and drives the implementation of the National Drugs Strategy 2009–16 at the local level. Its membership is also comprised of representatives from all sectors and bodies involved in delivering the National Drugs Strategy.

Local and regional drugs and alcohol task forces are responsible for implementing the National Drugs Strategy in the context of the needs identified at the regional/local level. Fourteen local drugs task forces are located in areas with significant drug problems. These task forces: (i) support and strengthen community-based responses to drug misuse through drawing up and implementing a local drug and alcohol strategy; (ii) identify and report on emerging issues and local responses; (iii) monitor, evaluate and assess the impact of funded projects and their continuing relevance to the local task force strategy; and (iv) recommend changes to the central funding allocations as deemed necessary. Each local drugs and alcohol task force has a chairperson and a coordinator. There are 10 regional drugs and alcohol task forces throughout Ireland, which have the same terms of reference as the local task forces.

Established on a non-statutory basis, the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol conducts, commissions and analyses research across the areas of prevalence, prevention, consequences and treatment. It is tasked with advising the government on drug policy issues. The Committee is attached to the Department of Health and reports to the Minister of State with responsibility for Primary Care, including the National Drugs Strategy. It has a broad membership that includes the statutory, community, voluntary and academic research sectors.

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Public expenditure

The intention to have drug-related public budgets has been mentioned in drug policy documents since the early 2000s. Estimates of executed expenditures are available after 2005. Currently, the priorities for drug-related public expenditure are set out in the National Drugs Strategy. The methods and the completeness of estimates have varied over time and the data available concern only labelled expenditures (1). In 2013 the governance framework and funding mechanisms were being revised and are expected to be redeveloped in the coming years.

In 2012 labelled drug-related expenditure represented 0.15 % of gross domestic product. Trend analysis shows that between 2005 and 2008 labelled expenditures increased. Between 2008 and 2012, labelled drug-related expenditure (deflated for inflation) fell by 12 %, probably as a result of the public austerity measures that followed the economic recession of 2008. In 2013–14 some additional cuts are likely to be made.

The most recent Irish drug strategy indicates that authorities aim to develop better estimates of drug-related labelled expenditures.

(1) Some of the funds allocated by governments for expenditure on tasks related to drugs are identified as such in the budget (‘labelled’). Often, however, the bulk of drug-related expenditure is not identified (‘unlabelled’).

View ‘Public expenditures profile’ for additional information.

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Drug-related research

Research is one of the four pillars of Ireland’s National Drugs Strategy, and has two main objectives: (i) to make data available on the extent of drug misuse amongst all marginalised groups; and (ii) to gain greater understanding of the factors that contribute to the misuse of drugs. The areas of prevalence, prevention, treatment and consequences of problem drug use were listed as priorities and account for most of the main projects in this area. Funding is mainly made available by governmental sources, while research in this area is mainly undertaken by the national focal point (the Health Research Board), the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol and some university departments. The national focal point coordinates two main reporting systems, the National Drug-Related Death Index and the National Drug Treatment Reporting System, and also publishes a quarterly research and policy bulletin, Drugnet Ireland, the fiftieth issue of which will be available in the summer of 2014.

The National Documentation Centre on Drug Use (NDC), based in the Health Research Board, is Ireland’s national drugs library. The NDC website provides access to Irish and international research and policy material on legal and illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco. The library’s information service is used extensively by practitioners, researchers and policymakers working in the drugs field.

Several national scientific journals contribute to disseminating drug-related research findings. Recent drug-related studies mentioned in the 2013 Irish National report mainly focused on aspects related to the responses to the drug situation and on the consequences of drug use. Prevalence incidence and patterns of drug use, supply and markets, methodology issues and mechanisms of drug use and effects were also mentioned.

View ‘Drug-related research’ for additional information.

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Country overview: Ireland

Contents

Key figures
  Year Ireland EU (27 countries) Source
Population  2012 4 582 769 p
503  663 601 b p Eurostat
Population by age classes 15–24  2012 12.2 % p 11.7 % b p Eurostat
25–49 38.1 % p 35.4 % b p
50–64 16.2 % p 19.5 % b p
GDP per capita in PPS (Purchasing Power Standards) 1  2011 129 100 Eurostat
Total expenditure on social protection (% of GDP) 2  2010 29.6 % p 29.4 % p Eurostat
Unemployment rate 3  2012 14.7 % 10.5 % Eurostat
Unemployment rate of population aged under 25 years  2012 30.4 % 22.8 % Eurostat
Prison population rate (per 100 000 of national population) 4  2011 93.1  : Council of Europe, SPACE I-2011
At risk of poverty rate 5  2011 : 16.9 % e SILC

p Eurostat provisional value.

b Break in series.

e Estimated.

1 Gross domestic product (GDP) is a measure of economic activity. It is defined as the value of all goods and services produced less the value of any goods or services used in their creation. The volume index of GDP per capita in Purchasing Power Standards (PPS) is expressed in relation to the European Union (EU-27) average set to equal 100. If the index of a country is higher than 100, this country's level of GDP per head is higher than the EU average and vice versa.

2  Expenditure on social protection contains: benefits, which consist of transfers, in cash or in kind to households and individuals to relieve them of the burden of a defined set of risks or needs.

3 Unemployment rates represent unemployed persons as a percentage of the labour force. Unemployed persons comprise persons aged 15 to 74 who were: (a) without work during the reference week; (b) currently available for work; (c) actively seeking work.

4 Situation of penal institutions on 1 September, 2011.

5 Share of persons aged 0+ with an equivalent disposable income below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold, which is set at 60 % of the national median equivalised disposable income (after social transfers).

Drug use among the general population and young people

The first national survey on drug use among the general population was carried out in Ireland in 2002–03 among people aged 15–64. The results were jointly published by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) and the Drug and Alcohol Information and Research Unit (DAIRU) within the Department of Health and Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland. This survey was repeated in 2006–07 and in 2010–11. The proportion of respondents who reported the use of any illicit drug during their lifetime increased from 24 % in 2006–07 to 27.2 % in 2010–11; while the proportion of those who reported use of an illicit drug during the last year and during the last month remained unchanged. In 2010–11, lifetime prevalence for cannabis was 25.3 %, an increase on the previous survey, and last year prevalence remained stable at 6 %. Lifetime prevalence for cocaine (including crack) increased to 6.8 %, from 5.3 % in 2006–07, while last year prevalence and last month prevalence remained stable. With regard to ecstasy, the lifetime prevalence rates also increased, compared to data from 2006–07; however, a decline was observed over the four-year period in the proportion of those reporting recent use of ecstasy.

The latest Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey (including drug-related questions) was conducted in Ireland in 2009/10, and included questions on cannabis. It found that 15 % of those aged 15-and-a-half reported using cannabis during their lifetime, compared with 24 % in 2006.

Data based on the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) surveys, conducted regularly since 1999 among 15- to 16-year-old students, reveal a downward trend in the lifetime prevalence rates of all surveyed substances. Thus the lifetime prevalence rate of cannabis decreased from 39 % in 2003 to 18 % in 2011. The second most commonly used substances are inhalants, with a lifetime prevalence of 9 % in 2011, down from 15 % in 2007. Results also indicated a decline in the last year and last month prevalence rates for cannabis use, although the decline is more visible among females than males.

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Prevention

Drug prevention is one of the pillars of Ireland’s interim National Drugs Strategy 2009–16 (NDS). The strategy states that ‘a tiered or graduated approach to prevention and education measures in relation to drugs and alcohol should be developed with a view to providing a framework for the future design and development of interventions’. It identifies three levels in this framework:

  • Universal prevention programmes aimed at the general population to promote overall health and to prevent the onset of drug and alcohol misuse. Measures often associated with this type of programme include awareness campaigns, school drug/alcohol education programmes and multi-component community initiatives.
  • Selective prevention programmes, aimed at groups at risk, and subsets of the general population including children of drug users, early school leavers and those involved in antisocial behaviour, to reduce the effect of risk factors present in these subgroups by building on strengths and developing resilience and protective factors.
  • Indicated prevention programmes for people who have already started using drugs/alcohol, or who are likely/vulnerable to engage in problematic drug/alcohol use (but may not necessarily be drug/alcohol-dependent), or to prevent relapse. These programmes are aimed at individuals or small groups and address specific needs.

In Ireland, young people and their families are the main target groups for drug prevention activities, which consist mainly of universal and selective prevention, with little focus on indicated prevention.

The NDS identifies as priorities for prevention improving the delivery of the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme in primary and post-primary schools, and coordinating the activities and funding of youth interventions in out-of-school settings to optimise their impacts. Drug prevention interventions in schools are delivered through the Walk Tall (primary schools) and the SPHE (post-primary schools) programmes. The SPHE programme aims to improve social and personal competencies in students so they can understand and counter the many social influences that are seen as contributing to their use of drugs and alcohol. Research carried out in 2010 among a cohort of post-primary school students indicated that almost 90 % of students had received SPHE classes in 2009, and around 83 % of respondents noted that alcohol, drug and solvent abuse was the most emphasised theme in the syllabus. In the community, prevention programmes are provided in different settings, such as youth clubs and youth cafés, and by means of diversion activities provided by the statutory, voluntary and community sectors. SPHE is also implemented in the training centres that work with the travelling community.

In 2009 around 84.0 % of primary schools and 55.1 % of post-secondary schools reported having a substance use policy in place, and the presence and effectiveness of substance use policies is also assessed during the whole school evaluation.

Selective prevention focuses on early interventions for people and communities most at risk. Actions are being developed to support the families of drugs users, and community development is acknowledged as an important step in building the capacity of local communities to avoid, or respond to and cope with, drug problems. Early school leavers and those outside formal education are targeted through measures such as the School Completion Programme and embedding the government’s Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) Action Plan, which tackles disadvantage among the school population in Local Drug Task Force (LDTF) areas. The DEIS continues to support some 151 000 children in 876 schools. Meanwhile, 46 000 at-risk children are directly targeted in schools through the Home School Community Liaison and School Completion programmes. The Strengthening Families programme, an internationally recognised parenting and family skills initiative for high-risk families, is implemented in several LDTF areas and has recently been evaluated.

The main target groups for indicated prevention are children with attention deficit disorders, behavioural problems and who abuse illicit and licit drugs, and teenagers from disadvantaged families.

The NDS proposes that preference be given to the development of timely awareness campaigns targeted in a way that takes individual, social and environmental conditions into account in key areas such as third-level institutions, workplaces, sports and other community and voluntary organisations. The bilingual website Drugs.ie[www.drugs.ie] is a central resource for drug and alcohol information and support. It is also used as a platform to raise awareness on new psychoactive substances, provide information on available services and disseminate guides and booklets.

Quality standards with practical information on best practice in substance use education in Ireland have been published as a manual. It is based on a substantial review of international research and provides guidelines for the development and enhancement of substance use education in school, youth work and community-based settings.

View ‘Prevention profile’ for additional information.

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Problem drug use

A 2006 study estimated the total number of opiate users at 7.2 per 1 000 population aged 15–64 (20 790 individuals). The estimated rate for Dublin was 17.6 users per 1 000 inhabitants aged 15–64 (14 904 users), and for the rest of Ireland it was 2.9 users per 1 000 inhabitants aged 15–64. This study included both injecting and non-injecting opiate users.

Up to 2012 the EMCDDA defined problem drug use as injecting drug use (IDU) or long duration/regular drug use of opiates, cocaine and/or amphetamines. Ecstasy and cannabis were not included in this category. Details are available here.

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Treatment demand

Treatment demand data are collected from agencies in Ireland that report to the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS). The system collects data from outpatient and inpatient facilities, low-threshold methadone maintenance units, crisis counselling units and general practitioners. In 2010 a total of 545 of the 673 treatment services reported to the NDTRS.

In 2010 a total of 8 511 clients entered treatment, of whom 3 740 entered treatment for the first time. Data regarding all treatment clients suggests that for 57.9 % opiate was their main problem drug, followed by cannabis at 22.9 % and cocaine at 10 %. Among new treatment clients, for 39 % opiate was their main problem drug, followed by cannabis at 35.7 % and cocaine at 13.3 %. It should be noted that the number of people admitted to treatment and reporting new psychoactive substances as their main problem drug increased in 2010 when compared to 2009; however, the overall proportion remains low.

In 2010 some 37 % of all clients entering treatment were under the age of 25. New treatment clients tended to be younger, with 51 % under 25. With regard to gender distribution, among all clients entering treatment 75.7 % were male and 24.3 % were female. A similar gender ratio was also reported among new treatment clients, with 78.6 % male and 21.4 % female.

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Drug-related infectious diseases

Data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) indicate that in 2011 there were 16 newly diagnosed reported cases of HIV among injecting drug users, indicating a decrease compared with the previous years (22 in 2010; 30 in 2009; 36 in 2008; 50 in 2007).

According to the data from HPSC, a risk factor was reported for 753 cases of hepatitis infection, and of these 81.8 % reported injecting drug use as their main risk factor. High-risk injecting practices and increased time spent in prison have been associated with a positive hepatitis C virus (HCV) status among injecting drug users in Ireland. With regards to hepatitis B virus (HBV), a downward trend in the number of notifications has been noted since 2008 and for more than half of the notifications the transmission route remains unknown. In total, 803 HBV cases were reported in 2009, 645 in 2010, and 525 in 2011. It is believed that sexual transmission continues to be the predominant mode of transmission.

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Drug-related deaths

Direct-drug-related deaths (DRD) are those occurring as a result of overdose.

For the first time in 2007, Ireland was able to provide data for Selection D. The number of cases in Selection D has fluctuated between 1998 (104 cases) and 2003 (108 cases); however, since 2003 the number of cases (mainly due to opiates, frequency as polysubstance poisoning) has increased, from 108 in 2003, to 171 in 2005, and 216 in 2009. In 2010 a total of 164 drug-related deaths were reported, which is a substantial reduction compared to 2009. Around four-fifths (80.5 %) of cases were male and the mean age at death was 34.1 years. Among those with known toxicology results (90.9 % of total DRD cases in 2010), the majority (96.6 %) were found to have opiates present, while more than two-thirds of cases were attributed to polydrug use.

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Treatment responses

In Ireland the Department of Health and Children is responsible for developing and reviewing drug treatment policy and strategy, while the Health Service Executive (HSE), which manages Ireland’s public health sector, is responsible for implementing this treatment strategy and preparation of annual National Service Plans. Drug treatment is provided through four HSE regions and 32 local health offices. The management of all addiction services falls under the remit of Primary, Community and Continuing Care, which oversees a number of national care groups. Funding for treatment is generally provided by the statutory sector through the HSE; however, in some cases individuals are obliged to contribute to the cost of drug treatment (excluding methadone maintenance treatment), usually through private medical care plans.

Treatment is provided through a network of statutory and non-statutory agencies. Medication-assisted treatment includes opiate detoxification and substitution therapies, alcohol and benzodiazepine detoxification, and psychiatric treatment. Medication-free therapy uses models such as therapeutic communities and the Minnesota Model, frequently adapted to the needs of the clients. Various types of counselling are provided through both philosophies of treatment and independent of either type of treatment.

Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, are provided through both statutory and community projects in Dublin. Furthermore, pregnant opiate users and their partners are entitled to immediate access to treatment. There are also specific initiatives available for drug users under the age of 18. These include psychiatric therapy, family therapy, specially adapted medication-free therapy and guidelines around the use of medication. The total number of drug treatment services available in Ireland showed a strong increase between 1998 and 2004, with the largest expansion in the outpatient sector.

The integrated care pathways model was recently piloted in Ireland and it also forms the conceptual basis for the National Drug Rehabilitation Framework published in 2010.

Three inpatient units and a number of outpatient treatment centres provide detoxification for problem opiate users. Substitution treatment is provided by treatment centres, satellite clinics and specialised general practitioners (GPs) (276 in 2010). Methadone, introduced in 1992, is the most commonly used agent for opioid detoxification and substitution treatment. In 2011 a total of 8 729 clients enrolled in opioid substitution treatment received methadone.

In July 2009 a feasibility study began on the use of buprenorphine/naloxone treatment as an alternative to methadone. It was conducted at several specialist addiction centres in Dublin and a number of Level II GP practices in Dublin and around the country. The aim was to enrol up to 80 problem opiate users who agree to treatment and are suitable (40 in specialist centres and 40 in the community). In 2010 the Department of Health commissioned an independent agency to evaluate the feasibility study. This evaluation is expected to make further recommendations in relation to which circumstances and client groups the drug would be most suitable for and the appropriate regulatory framework needed.

View ‘Treatment profile’ for additional information.

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Harm reduction responses

Needle and syringe exchange services were first provided in 1989, when five exchanges were established. There are now 34 exchanges in the country, operating two models of service: fixed-site exchanges (28), and home visit exchanges, or ‘backpacking’ (6). In 2009 the Health Service Executive in cooperation with the Irish Pharmacy Foundation announced a project to provide needle and syringe exchange through community-based pharmacies in 65 new locations across Ireland; the terms and conditions of this project are still being negotiated. The latest estimate (2007) indicates that nearly 1.1 million syringes were distributed through needle exchange programmes.

Services provide a range of sterile injecting equipment and materials. All existing services provide different sizes and types of needle and syringe, as well as alcohol swabs and citric or acetic acid. Condoms, stericups or cookers and sterile water, non-toxic foil (for smoking heroin), syringe identifiers and tourniquets are available through the needle and syringe programmes. However, no service provides single-use injecting packs, crack pipes or straws.

In Ireland the HBV vaccine is recommended for several high-risk groups, including prisoners and injecting drug users. A national hepatitis C virus (HCV) working group, established in early 2007, has examined how the country can respond to HCV in the areas of surveillance, education and treatment. The experts’ recommendations were presented to HSE senior management in 2008.

On 9 August 2005 the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children introduced a new statutory instrument, the Medical Products (Prescription and Control of Supply) (Amendment) Regulations 2005. This permits the supply and administration of a number of medicinal products (including naloxone, for the management of respiratory depression secondary to a known or suspected narcotic overdose) by pre-hospital emergency care providers in specific conditions.

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Drug markets and drug-law offences

The main sources of information on Irish drug offences are the Annual report of An Garda Síochána (the Irish police) up to 2006 and the Central Statistics Office thereafter. The reports contain information on the number and quantity of drug seizures made by the Garda Síochána and the Irish Customs Drug Law Enforcement. In 2013, however, the first comprehensive study of the Irish illicit drug market is due to be published by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and the Health Research Board. The study examines the nature and organisation of the Irish drugs market, analyses different factors influencing its development and the impact of drug trafficking on local communities, and assesses different interventions.

The total number of drug seizures increased between 2005 and 2007, and then decreased in 2008 and 2009, while in 2011 a slight increase in seizures was noted. Partly, this trend can be explained by the trend in cannabis seizures. Although cannabis seizures account for the largest proportion of all drug seizures, the total number of cannabis seizures reported was fewer in 2011 than in 2005–08, but more than in 2009–10. Another explanation for the declining trend is the significant decline in cocaine and heroin seizures. Between 2001–07 the number of cocaine seizures showed a strong upward trend, increasing from 300 in 2001 to 1 749 in 2007. The quantity of cocaine seized has increased steadily since 2001, from 5 kg in 2001 to 1 752 kg in 2007. However, there has been a downward trend in the number of seizures since 2008. Although the quantity of cocaine seized dropped to 95 kg in 2010, in 2011 it almost doubled to 179 kg. The number of heroin seizures increased from 209 in 1995 to a peak of 1 698 in 2007, and declined thereafter to 752 in 2011. The quantity of heroin seized has fluctuated from year to year. Between 1995 and 2008, it increased significantly from 6 kg to 207 kg, while in 2010 only 30 kg and in 2011 only 32 kg was seized. A steady increase in the number of cannabis plant seizures and number of plants seized, in the presence of a declining trend in cannabis resin seizures and resurgence of ecstasy-type stimulants in 2011, are also highlighted in the latest National report.

The vast majority of drug-law offences reported come under one of three sections of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977: Section 3 — possession of any controlled drug without due authorisation; Section 15 — possession of a controlled drug for the purpose of unlawful sale or supply; and Section 21 — obstructing the lawful exercise of a power conferred by the Act. Other offences regularly reported relate to the unlawful importation into the State of controlled drugs contrary to Section 5; the use of forged prescriptions (Section 18); and the cultivation of cannabis plants (Section 17). Data reported by the Irish Central Statistics Office regarding drug-law offences in 2010 reported that there were a total of 11 984 prosecutions due to drug-law offences, of which 69.1 % were linked to possession-related offences.

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National drug laws

Possession of any controlled substance without due authorisation is an offence under the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 and 1984. The drugs to which the Acts apply are listed in their schedules, together with some generic definitions of families of substances. The legislation makes a distinction between possession for personal use and possession for sale or supply.

Penalties for possession for personal use depend on the type of drug (cannabis or other drugs) and on the penal proceedings, i.e. whether a summary conviction or a conviction on indictment. Possession of cannabis or cannabis resin for personal use is punishable by a fine on first or second conviction, but from a third offence onwards it incurs a fine and/or a term of imprisonment up to one year for a summary conviction and up to three years for conviction on indictment. Possession in any other case incurs a penalty of imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine on summary conviction and up to seven years for conviction on indictment. However, the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act 2011 requires courts to consider imposing a community service order instead of a prison sentence in all cases when up to 12 months’ imprisonment would be appropriate. With regard to drug trafficking, the law establishes different penalties according to the type of offender, the type of drugs and the quantity, matters to be determined at trial with the appropriate sentence at the discretion of the judge. Possession for sale or supply can attract penalties of up to life imprisonment, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for the possession of drugs with a market value of at least EUR 12 700.

Since 31 January 2006 any kind of fungus that contains psilocin or an ester of psilocin is a controlled drug under the Act. The Criminal Justice Act 2006 included:

  • criminal offences in relation to participation in criminal organisations;
  • strengthened provisions on the imposition of the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for drug trafficking;
  • new offences of supplying drugs to prisoners;
  • provisions in relation to a Drug Offenders Register;
  • new provisions to deal with antisocial behaviour, such as antisocial behaviour orders.

In 2010 more than 200 individual ‘legal high’ substances were brought under control with the Declaration Order under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. Following the Declaration Order, the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 was passed to allow courts to intervene quickly and issue prohibition notices and orders for smuggling, trading, advertising and production of new psychoactive substances not specifically proscribed under the Misuse of Drugs Acts.

Following a review of the Drug Treatment Court by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, it was decided that the Court will continue in operation for at least a further two years so that a number of improvements that the review identified can be implemented. It is hoped that by this time the number of participants participating in the Drug Treatment Court programme can be substantially increased. A further review of the Court is due to be published in 2013.

View ‘Legal profile’ for additional information.

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National drug strategy

Ireland’s National Drugs Strategy (Interim) 2009–16 was launched on 10 September 2009. The overall strategic aim is to continue to tackle the harm caused to individuals and society by the misuse of drugs, through a concerted focus on the five pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research. Five strategic aims are set out:

  1. To create a safer society through the reduction of the supply and availability of drugs for illicit use.
  2. To minimise problem drug use throughout society.
  3. To provide appropriate and timely substance treatment and rehabilitation services (including harm reduction services) tailored to individual needs.
  4. To ensure the availability of accurate, timely, relevant and comparable data on the extent and nature of problem substance use in Ireland.
  5. To have in place an efficient and effective framework for implementing the National Drugs Strategy 2009–16.

A set of specific objectives and key performance indicators are set out under each of the strategy’s five pillars. These are further elaborated through 63 actions spread across the different pillars, which list the agencies responsible for delivering them.

While the National Drugs Strategy is predominately focused on illicit drugs, Action 1 called for the establishment of a steering group to develop a national substance misuse strategy aimed at combing illicit drugs and alcohol. The steering group’s report was launched on 7 February 2012 and is being reviewed by government.

View ‘National drug strategies’ for additional information.

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Coordination mechanism in the field of drugs

At the inter-ministerial level, drug policy is one of several areas that fall within the scope of the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion, Children and Integration, which is chaired by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister). The Committee is attended by the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Primary Care and the National Drugs Strategy.

The Department of Health is responsible for the day-to-day operational coordination of drug policy. It carries out its work in this area through two units: the Drug Policy Unit, which is tasked with the overall implementation of the National Drugs Strategy and manages the Oversight Forum on Drugs; and the Drugs Programme Unit, which is responsible for the management and administration of funds for the Drugs Initiatives Programmes carried out in Drugs Task Force areas. It is also in change of the Drugs Advisory Group.

The Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy carries out the function of national drugs coordinator on the political level, while the head of the Drugs Policy Unit performs the role of coordinator at the administrative level.

The Oversight Forum on Drugs, which operates at the inter-ministerial level and meets four times a year, is tasked with providing high-level monitoring of the drugs strategy. It is chaired by the Minister of State at the Department of Health and includes representatives from all sectors and bodies responsible for delivering the National Drugs Strategy.

A Drugs Advisory Group (DAG) advises the Minister of State on operational and policy matters relating to the implementation of the strategy. Its membership is also comprised of representatives from all sectors and bodies involved in delivering the National Drugs Strategy.

Local and regional drugs task forces are also involved in the implementation of the National Drugs Strategy. Fourteen local drugs task forces are located in areas with significant drug problems and take part in the coordination of local services, functioning as a mechanism for community and voluntary organisations to participate in service planning, design and delivery. Each local drugs task force has a chairperson and a coordinator who prepares action plans for the area, generally reflecting the approach of the national strategy. There are 10 regional drugs task forces throughout Ireland, which, like the local task forces, function to bring different stakeholders together for coordination and planning purposes. Each regional drugs task force also prepares an action plan for its area.

Established on a non-statutory basis, the National Advisory Committee on Drugs conducts, commissions and analyses research across the areas of prevalence, prevention, consequences and treatment. It is tasked with advising the government on drug policy issues. The Committee is attached to the Department of Health and reports to the Minister of State with responsibility for Primary Care, including the National Drugs Strategy. It has a broad membership that includes the statutory, community, voluntary and academic research sectors.

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Public expenditure

Drug policy documents have mentioned an intention to have drug-related public budgets since the early 2000s. Estimates of executed expenditures are available only after 2005. Currently, the priorities for drug-related public expenditure are set out in the National Drugs Strategy. The methods and the completeness of estimates have varied over time and the data available concern only labelled expenditures. (1) The governance framework and funding mechanisms are being revised in 2013, and are expected to be redeveloped in the coming years.

In 2011 labelled drug-related expenditures represented 0.16 % of gross domestic product. Trend analysis shows that between 2005 and 2008 labelled expenditures increased. After 2008 expenditures declined, probably as a result of the public austerity measures that followed the economic recession of 2008. Additional cuts are likely in 2012.

The most recent National Drugs Strategy indicates that authorities aim to develop better estimates of drug-related labelled expenditure in the future.

(1) Some of the funds allocated by governments for expenditure on tasks related to drugs are identified as such in the budget (‘labelled’). Often, however, the bulk of drug-related expenditure is not identified (‘unlabelled’).

View ‘Public expenditures profile’ for additional information.

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Drug-related research

Research is one of the four pillars of Ireland’s National Drugs Strategy, and has two main objectives: (i) to make data available on the extent of drug misuse amongst all marginalised groups; and (ii) to gain greater understanding of the factors that contribute to the misuse of drugs. The areas of prevalence, prevention, treatment and consequences of problem drug use were listed as priorities and account for most of the main projects in this area. Funding is mainly made available by governmental sources, while research in this area is mainly undertaken by the national focal point (Health Research Board), the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and some university departments. The national focal point coordinates two main reporting systems, a documentation centre, a newsletter and a website where a database on research projects is available. Several national scientific journals contribute to disseminating drug-related research findings. Recent drug-related studies mentioned in the 2012 Irish National report mainly focused on aspects related to the consequences of drug use and on responses to the drug situation. Research on drug-use prevalence and on determinants of drug use and supplies and markets was also mentioned.

View ‘Drug-related research’ for additional information.

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About the EMCDDA

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is the reference point on drugs and drug addiction information in Europe. Inaugurated in Lisbon in 1995, it is one of the EU's decentralised agencies. Read more >>

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Page last updated: Wednesday, 25 June 2014