Dublin: Ireland Now Has Up To 23,576 Heroin Abusers: EMCDDA Report

17 Feb

2010 report on the drugs situation in Europe
by Brian Galvin

The 2010 annual reportof the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) was published on 5 November.1 The Health Research Board (HRB) provides the Irish figures for the EMCDDA report.

At least one million people across Europe are treated for problem drug use every year. People are treated for harmful use of, or dependence on, one or more drugs. In 2008 14,518 people in Ireland, about 1.4% of the European total, were receiving treatment for drug use. Opiates (mainly heroin) are the most common drug for which people seek treatment in Ireland, while cannabis is the most common drug used among the general population.

Opiates

There are between 1.2 and 1.5 million problem opiate users in the EU.  Between 18,136 and 23,576 of these live in Ireland. The percentage of problem opiate users in opiate substitution treatment ranges from less than 10% in some member states to over 50% in other states. In 2007, the latest year for which we can estimate, 55% of problem opiate users in Ireland were in treatment. In some countries people wait for more than one year to commence treatment. In Ireland people living in Dublin wait for substitution treatment for an average of between two weeks and six months, depending on where they live, while people living outside Dublin wait between one month and two years. More than 85% of fatal overdoses in Europe are due to opiates.  In Ireland 74% of fatal overdoses are due to opiates, either alone or in combination with another drug. The number of heroin seizures increased across Europe. In Ireland there was a steady rise in heroin seizures between 2004 and 2007, when the number peaked at 1,698; the number fell to 1,455 in 2009. 

Cocaine

Ireland is classified as a high prevalence country for cocaine use, along with Denmark, Spain, Italy and the UK. The NACD general population survey for 2006/72 reported that 1.7% of adults used cocaine in the year prior to the survey and the percentage was higher among young adults (3.1%) and men (2.3%). In 2008 around 70,000 people entered drug treatment for problem cocaine use across Europe.  In Ireland 761 entered treatment.  Across Europe 25% of new entrants to treatment reported cocaine as their primary drug.  The figure for Ireland is 17%. The number of cocaine related deaths increased in Spain, the UK and Ireland. In Ireland the number of cocaine deaths increased from 10 in 2003 to 63 in 2007. The number of cocaine seizures in Ireland increased from 566 in 2003 to 1,749 in 2007 and decreased considerably to 1,010 in 2008 and 635 in 2009.

Ecstasy

The NACD 2006/7 general population survey reported that 1.2% of the general population used ecstasy in the year prior to the survey, placing Ireland among the medium prevalence countries. Recent ecstasy use was higher among young adults (2.4%). The number of treated cases who reported ecstasy as a main problem drug decreased considerably, from 139 in 2003 to 103 in 2008. There were 90 ecstasy seizures in 2009, slightly less than the average over the preceding six years.

Cannabis

The NACD 2006/7 survey reported that 6.3% of the general population had used cannabis in the year prior to the survey. This places Ireland in the mid-range for cannabis use across Europe. The number of cannabis users attending treatment increased from 991 in 2003 to 1,191 in 2008, when it represented 19% of clients in treatment. The number of cannabis seizures in 2009 (2,314) was less than half that in 2008 (5,662).  

New psychoactive substances

In the last eight years, the sale of new psychoactive substances in head shops or online emerged as a new phenomenon across Europe. On the 11 May 2010, the Irish government banned a number of psychoactive substances sold in head shops and online. These were synthetic cannabinoids, benzylpiperazine (BZP) and other piperazine derivatives, and six named cathinones (mephedrone, methylone, methedrone, butylone, flephedrone and MDPV). A Garda inventory indicated that at their peak in early 2010 there were 113 head shops in the country, with at least one in every county. On 12 May, the gardaí visited all head shops and warehouses and seized all banned products. On 13 May there were 34 head shops selling psychoactive substances. In early August the number increased to 39 shops. Following the introduction of the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010, only 19 were open by early September and none were selling psychoactive substances.

Older drug users in treatment

The proportion of drug users aged 40 and over in treatment increased from 3.1% of all treated drug users in 1998 to 9.4% in 2008. This is lower than the European average of 20%. The lower rate in Ireland may be explained by the fact that drug use is a relatively new phenomenon in Ireland compared to other western European countries. Heroin is the most common main problem drug reported by older drug users in Ireland. The proportion of drug users aged 40 and over in methadone maintenance treatment increased from 4% in 1994 to 19% in 2008. Between 1998 and 2007 22% of the deaths due to poisoning recorded in Ireland (as per the  EMCDDA’s Selection D definition) were of individuals aged 40 and over; this percentage is in line with those in other European countries. There are no specialised services for older drug users in Ireland or elsewhere in Europe.

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1.  EMCDDA (2010) Annual report 2010: the state of the drugs problem in Europe. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Available at www.emcdda.europa.eu/publications/annual-report/2010

2.  National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Public Health Information and Research Branch (2008) Drug use in Ireland and Northern Ireland: first results from the 2006/2007 drug prevalence survey. Bulletin 1. Dublin: National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Public Health Information and Research Branch.  Available at www.drugsandalcohol.ie/11529

Source: DrugNet Ireland: issue 36 Winter 2010: www.hrb.ie

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