Ireland country overview

Ireland country overview

Map of Ireland

About NFP: 

The Irish national focal point is located in the Health Research Board (HRB). The HRB is a statutory body with a mission to improve health through research and information. The HRB is responsible for promoting, commissioning and conducting medical, epidemiological and health services research in Ireland. Within the HRB a multidisciplinary team of researchers and information specialists work to provide objective, reliable and comparable information on the drug situation, its consequence and responses in Ireland. The HRB disseminates research findings, information and news in the drugs area through its Trends series and through a quarterly research and policy bulletin, Drugnet Ireland. Through its research and dissemination activities, the HRB aims to inform policy and practice in relation to drug misuse.

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Last updated: Monday, May 30, 2016

Drug use among the general population and young people

Content for prevalence: 

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 and the Drug and Alcohol Information and Research Unit 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 the 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 ever-used substance, 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 2014, and included questions on cannabis. It found that10 % of those aged 15–16 reported using cannabis during their lifetime, compared with 15 % in 2010 and 24 % in 2006.

Data based on the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD), conducted regularly in Ireland 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.

Look for Prevalence of drug use in the Statistical bulletin for more information.


Content for prevention: 

Drug prevention is one of the pillars of Ireland’s interim National Drugs Strategy 2009–16. 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.

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 National Drugs Strategy 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. Recently, the use of harm reduction approaches was approved as part of SPHE programmes in post-primary schools. The quality of SPHE is regularly assessed through school inspections, which involve observations of lessons, reviews of lesson materials, self-evaluations by teachers and surveys among students. 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 2012 around 88 % of primary schools and 93 % of post-primary schools that had participated in a life skills survey reported having a substance use policy in place; the presence and effectiveness of substance use policies is assessed during the whole-school evaluation.

A significant proportion of young people participate in community-based voluntary youth work activities that aim to enhance their personal and social development. A 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 Action Plan, which tackles disadvantage among the school population in Local Drug Task Force (LDTF) areas. 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 National Drugs Strategy 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 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. 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.

See the Prevention profile for Ireland for more information. 

Problem drug use

Content for problem drug use: 

Up to 2012 the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) defined problem drug use as injecting drug use or long duration/regular use of opiates, cocaine and/or amphetamines. 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: 18 136–23 576), or 7.2 per 1 000 population aged 15–64 (range: 6.2–8.10), with two-thirds of the estimated users being from Dublin.

The new estimate of the number of opiate users is to be completed in 2015. 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.

Look for High-risk drug use in the Statistical bulletin for more information. 

Treatment demand

Content for treatment demand: 

Treatment demand data are collected from agencies in Ireland that report to the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS), which is a case-based, anonymised database. The system collects data from both public and voluntary drug and alcohol treatment services, which include outpatient and inpatient facilities, low-threshold methadone maintenance units, crisis counselling units, general practitioners and treatment units in prisons. For the purposes of the NDTRS, treatment is broadly defined as ‘any activity which aims to ameliorate the psychological, medical or social state of individuals who seek help for their substance misuse problems’. The NDTRS is co-ordinated by staff at the Health Research Board on behalf of the Department of Health. In 2014 a total of 239 outpatient and 42 inpatient treatment units, 28 treatment units in prisons, 232 general practitioners and 68 low-threshold units reported to the NDTRS.

In 2014 a total of 9 523 clients entered treatment, of whom 3 774 were new clients entering treatment for the first time. Data regarding all treatment clients suggest that opioids was the main problem drug for 50 %, followed by cannabis at 28 % , and cocaine at 9 %. Among new treatment clients, cannabis was the main problem drug for 45 %, followed by opioids at 27 %, and cocaine at 11 %. Around 42 % of all and 36 % of new treatment clients whose primary drug is opioids injects it, while the injection of other substances (cocaine or stimulants) is extremely rare.

In 2014 the mean age of all clients entering treatment was 30, while new treatment clients tended to be younger, and on average were aged 27. With regard to gender distribution, among all clients entering treatment 73 % were male and 27 % were female. A slightly higher proportion of males was reported among new treatment clients, with 76 % male and 24 % female.

Look for Treatment demand indicator in the Statistical bulletin for more information. 

Drug-related infectious diseases

Content for drug-related infectious diseases: 

Notification data from the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) indicate that in 2014, among 359 people newly diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), twenty-five cases were linked to injecting drug use. This was slightly more than in previous years. Further analysis indicated that many of these cases were recent infections. The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has reported a concern over the increase of new HIV cases among PWID at the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015, and an epidemiological investigation has been carried out to determine the reasons for this rise in new infections.

According to data from the ECDC, a risk factor was reported for 383 cases of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, and of these 274 reported injecting drug use as their main risk factor. Older age, 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 observed between 2008 and 2014 from 900 to 422 cases accordingly. It is thought that sexual transmission continues to be the predominant mode of transmission; however, for more than 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.

Look for Drug-related infectious diseases in the Statistical bulletin for more information. 

Drug-induced deaths and mortality

Content for drug-induced deaths: 

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 EMCDDA definitions for selection D and recommendations.

The number of deaths has fluctuated over the past five years but overall an increasing trend is observed since 2003. In 2014 a total of 219 deaths were reported, which is an increase compared to 189 deaths reported in 2012. The majority of all deceased were male (164 of cases). On average, victims were 36.4 years old. A total of 187 deaths had known toxicology results, the majority (169) of which were found to have opioids, while more than two-thirds of cases were attributed to polydrug use. Methadone was present in about 93 deaths recorded and heroin was present in 86 deaths reported in 2013, which is the first increase in heroin-related deaths since 2009.

The drug-induced mortality rate among adults (aged 15–64) was 71.1 deaths per million in 2013, more than three time the most recent European average of 19.2 deaths per million.

Look for Drug-related deaths in the Statistical bulletin for more information. 

Treatment responses

Content for treatment responses: 

The current National Drugs Strategy 2009–16 sets out a range of priorities, each with associated actions, for drug treatment. The over-arching categories are: development of general problem drug use treatment services; targeting of services for specific at-risk groups; development of a quality and standards framework; training and skills development. The Health Service Executive (HSE), which manages Ireland’s public health sector, is responsible for the provision of all publicly funded drug treatment. The management of all addiction services falls under the remit of the Primary Care Division, which oversees a number of national care groups. Drug treatment is provided through a network of HSE services (public), but also non-statutory/voluntary agencies, many of which are funded by the HSE. Some private organisations also provide treatment.

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. Nowadays, the majority of drug treatment is provided through publicly funded and voluntary outpatient services. These include 300 specialised drug treatment centres, around 75 low threshold agencies and 346 specialised generalised practitioners which provide opioid substitution treatment (OST) in the community. Some outpatient care could be provided through the mental health services and also by the private agencies. Inpatient treatment is mainly provided through residential centres run by the voluntary agencies. Inpatient treatment is provided mainly through 49 non-statutory agencies that operate based on the principles of residential care or therapeutic communities, and in two hospital-based residential care units. Thirty-three prisons also provide addiction treatment either by their own medical service or in cooperation with community service providers.

The types of treatment and services offered vary depending on the service. Medication-assisted treatment includes methadone detoxification, methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) and benzodiazepine detoxification; all of these are increasingly provided in outpatient settings. Alternative therapies such as acupuncture are provided through both statutory and community projects. Furthermore, pregnant opioid 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 and specially adapted medication-free therapy.

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. Detoxification is provided through various inpatient services: psychiatric hospitals, specialised detoxification units and detoxification beds within residential centres. Outpatient detoxification is supported in the community through outpatient services including clinics and general practitioners (GPs).

OST is provided by the specialised HSE outpatient treatment clinics, satellite clinics and through specialised GPs in the community, and in prisons. Methadone is the most commonly used agent for opioid detoxification and substitution treatment. As of 31 December 2014 a total of 9 764 clients enrolled in OST had 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.

See the Treatment profile for Ireland for additional information. 

Harm reduction responses

Content for harm reduction responses: 

Needle and syringe exchange services were first provided in 1989, when five exchanges were established. Currently there are three models of service operating: fixed-site exchanges (24 sites), outreach (14 sites), and pharmacy based needle exchange programmes. In 2009 the HSE in cooperation with the Irish Pharmacy Foundation announced a project to provide needle and syringe exchange through community-based pharmacies. The project was rolled out in 2011 in cooperation with the Elton John Aids Foundation, and in 2014 a total of 118 pharmacy-based sites were operating across Ireland. On average, 1 330 clients attended pharmacy-based needle and syringe programmes each month in 2014. In 2014 specialist syringe programmes served more than 9 200 individual clients and distributed nearly 393 000 syringes.

Services provide a range of sterile injecting equipment and materials. All existing services provide different sizes and types of needle and syringe, 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 also available through the needle and syringe programmes. In pharmacies, the material is distributed in packs containing injecting equipment for either three or 10 sterile injections. However, no service provides single-use injecting packs, crack pipes or straws. A recent review of needle provision in Ireland, published in 2015, provides further recommendations for improvements to the services. In particular it calls for need to standardise monitoring of provided services, to increase the uptake of testing on blood-borne viruses and vaccination, and to provide other drug-use paraphernalia to the clients.

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. Furthermore, in 2014 a naloxone demonstration project was initiated in Ireland. The project lasts two years, and it involves the distribution of a pre-filled syringe of naloxone on prescription along with the training of opiate addicts on its administration. It is expected that the project will reach a total of 600 addicts.

See the Harm reduction overview for Ireland for additional information. 

Drug markets and drug-law offences

Content for 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 the first comprehensive study of illicit drug markets in Ireland was published by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol and the Health Research Board. The study examines the nature and organisation of Irish drug markets, and analyses the different factors that influence their development and also the impact of drug trafficking on local communities. It also assesses different interventions, particularly those involving law enforcement.

Most illicit drugs are brought to Ireland, and enter the country, by sea, although some domestic production of cannabis and some synthetic stimulants has also been reported. The total number of drug seizures increased between 2005 and 2007, decreased in 2008 and 2009 to 5 494 seizures, and remained fairly stable since then, with 5 421 seizures in 2014. This trend can partly be explained by the trend in cannabis seizures. The decrease in cannabis product seizures between 2008 and 2010 may partly be explained by a change in the nature of cannabis use, with people moving from resin to more potent forms of cannabis, such as herbal cannabis. Herbal cannabis seizures almost doubled between 2009 and 2011, and plateaued in the two subsequent years. Moreover, an increase in the domestic cultivation of cannabis has also been observed, with 157 indoor cultivation sites seized in 2013. Another explanation for the declining trend is the significant decline in cocaine and heroin seizures.

Nevertheless, cannabis products remain the most frequently seized illicit substance in Ireland. The number of cannabis resin seizures decreased between 2009 and 2013, while the number of cannabis plant seizures steadily increased from 2006 to 2012 and a record number of 11 601 plants were seized in 2012. In 2013 the number of herbal plants seizures fell, and the amounts seized halved (427 seizures and 6 309 plants). The number of herbal cannabis seizures almost doubled between 2009 and 2012, from 981 to 1 843, while in 2013 a total of 1 770 herbal cannabis seizures were recorded. The amount of seized herbal cannabis also doubled between 2010 and 2011; some reduction was noted in 2012, but this did not continue in 2013. Between 2001–07 the number of cocaine seizures showed a strong upward trend, increasing from 300 in 2001 to 1 749 in 2007, then decreasing to 405 in 2014. The quantity of cocaine seized increased steadily from 5 kg in 2001 to 1 752 kg in 2007, decreasing in the following years to 66 kg in 2013. The number of heroin seizures increased from 209 in 1995 to a peak of 1 698 in 2007, and declined thereafter to 690 in 2013 but increased again to 954 seizures in 2014. 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 and 2013 a total of 60 kg and 61 kg of heroin was seized, respectively. Seizures of ecstasy-type stimulants decreased significantly between 2008 and 2010; however, in 2011–13 an upward trend in the number of seizures was noted. Moreover, in 2013 a record amount of more than 465 000 ecstasy tablets were seized in Ireland. Amphetamine-type stimulants are seized less frequently than other classic illicit substances and the amounts seized have been relatively stable in recent years.

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 2014 showed that there were a total of 15 895 drug-law offences.

Look for Drug law offences in the Statistical bulletin for additional data. 

National drug laws

Content for 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.

In 2015 the Court of Appeal held that the section of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977, under which the Government had introduced Declaration Orders banning numerous substances over the past two decades, was unconstitutional, as such law-making powers were exclusive to Parliament. As those Declaration Orders were effectively annulled by the judgment, the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015 was introduced as emergency legislation to re-control those substances.

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

National drug strategy

Content for 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 measures based on it, such as the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, have been developed by government. 

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Coordination mechanism in the field of drugs

Content for 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 with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy; this minister is also responsible for the equality portfolio, which is administered by the Department of Justice and Equality.

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 the Drugs Policy Unit, which is tasked with the overall implementation of the National Drugs Strategy, manages the Oversight Forum on Drugs and 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 with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy 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’s mandate is to conduct, commission and analyses research across the areas of prevalence, prevention, consequences and treatment. It may also advise 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 the National Drugs Strategy. It has a broad membership drawn from the statutory, community, voluntary and academic research sectors.

Public expenditure

Content for 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. However, recently the method to estimate drug-related public expenditure has been defined and it has become possible to compare drug-related public expenditure over time (1).

In 2014 total drug-related expenditure represented 0.12 % of gross domestic product. In 2015 the planned budget allocated 51.7 % for health, 26.7 % for public order and safety, 8.6 % for recreation, culture and religion, 7.3 % for education and 7.3 % for social protection initiatives (Table 1).

Trend analysis shows that in the six years since 2009, drug-related expenditure in Ireland has declined by 16 %, probably as a result of the public austerity measures that followed the economic recession of 2008. However, in 2015 expenditure stayed at the same level as in the previous year.

Table 1: Labelled drug-related public expenditure, 2015.

COFOG classification (a)

Expenditure (thousand EUR)

% of total (b)

Direct costs (labelled expenditure)






Public order and safety



Recreation, culture and religion





Social protection





(a) According to the United Nations Classification of the Functions of Government (COFOG) Eurostat data sources: (general) and
(b) EMCDDA estimations.

(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’).

Drug-related research

Content for 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 a 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 Drugs Library, a newsletter and a website ( that hosts a repository of Irish drug and alcohol research and policy documents. Several national scientific journals contribute to disseminating drug-related research findings. Recent drug-related studies have mainly focused on aspects related to drug-use prevalence, the consequences of drug use and responses to the drug situation. Research on supply and markets has also been mentioned.

See Drug-related research for more detailed information. 

Data sheet — key statistics on the drug situation

Content for Data sheet: 

        EU range      
  Year   Country data Min. Max.      
Problem opioid use (rate/1 000) :   : 0.2 10.7      
All clients entering treatment (%) 2014   49.8% 4% 90%      
New clients entering treatment (%) 2014   27.5% 2% 89%      
Purity — heroin brown (%) 2014   28.4% 7% 52%      
Price per gram — heroin brown (EUR) 2014   EUR 140 EUR 23 EUR 140      
Prevalence of drug use — schools (%) 2011   3.0% 1% 5%      
Prevalence of drug use — young adults (%) 2011   2.8% 0% 4%      
Prevalence of drug use — all adults (%) 2011   1.5% 0% 2%      
All clients entering treatment (%) 2014   8.7% 0% 38%      
New clients entering treatment (%) 2014   11.2% 0% 40%      
Purity (%) 2014   47.6% 20% 64%      
Price per gram (EUR) 2014   EUR 70 EUR 47 EUR 107      
Prevalence of drug use — schools (%) 2011   2.0% 1% 7%      
Prevalence of drug use — young adults (%) 2011   0.8% 0% 3%      
Prevalence of drug use — all adults (%) 2011   0.4% 0% 1%      
All clients entering treatment (%) 2014   0.6% 0% 70%      
New clients entering treatment (%) 2014   0.8% 0% 75%      
Purity (%) :   : 1% 49%      
Price per gram (EUR) 2014   EUR 15 EUR 3 EUR 63      
Prevalence of drug use — schools (%) 2011   2.0% 1% 4%      
Prevalence of drug use — young adults (%) 2011   0.9% 0% 6%      
Prevalence of drug use — all adults (%) 2011   0.5% 0% 2%      
All clients entering treatment (%) 2014   0.6% 0% 2%      
New clients entering treatment (%) 2014   1.0% 0% 2%      
Purity (mg of MDMA base per unit) :   : 27 mg 131 mg      
Price per tablet (EUR) 2014   EUR 10 EUR 4 EUR 16      
Prevalence of drug use — schools (%) 2011   18.0% 5% 42%      
Prevalence of drug use — young adults (%) 2011   10.3% 0% 24%      
Prevalence of drug use — all adults (%) 2011   6.0% 0% 11%      
All clients entering treatment (%) 2014   27.8% 3% 63%      
New clients entering treatment (%) 2014   44.9% 7% 77%      
Potency — herbal (%) 2010   7.9% 3% 15%      
Potency — resin (%) 2010   2.6% 3% 29%      
Price per gram — herbal (EUR) 2014   EUR 20 EUR 3 EUR 23      
Price per gram — resin (EUR) 2014   EUR 6 EUR 3 EUR 22      
Prevalence of problem drug use                
Problem drug use (rate/1 000) :   : 2.7 10.0      
Injecting drug use (rate/1 000) :   : 0.2 9.2      
Drug-related infectious diseases/deaths                
HIV infections newly diagnosed (cases / million) 2014   5.4 0.0 50.9      
HIV prevalence (%) 2010   6.0% 0% 31%      
HCV prevalence (%) 2010   41.5% 15% 84%      
Drug-related deaths (rate/million) 2014   71.1 2.4 113.2      
Health and social responses                
Syringes distributed 2014   393 275 382 7 199 660      
Clients in substitution treatment 2014   9 764 178 161 388      
Treatment demand                
All clients 2014   9 523 271 100 456      
New clients 2014   3 774 28 35 007      
All clients with known primary drug 2014   9 523 271 97 068      
New clients with known primary drug 2014   3 774 28 34 088      
Drug law offences                
Number of reports of offences 2014   15 895 537 282 177      
Offences for use/possession 2014   11 274 13 398 422      

Key national figures and statistics

Content for Key national figures and statistics: 

b Break in time series.

e Estimated.

p Eurostat provisional value.

: Not available.

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, 2014.

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).

  Year Ireland EU (28 countries) Source
Population  2014 4 605 501 p 506 944 075 bep Eurostat
Population by age classes 15–24  2014 11.4 % p 11.3 % bep Eurostat
25–49 37.3 %  p 34.7 % bep
50–64 16.7 % p 19.9 % bep
GDP per capita in PPS (Purchasing Power Standards) 1  2014 134 100 Eurostat
Total expenditure on social protection (% of GDP) 2  2013 22 : Eurostat
Unemployment rate 3  2015 9.4 % 9.4 % Eurostat
Unemployment rate of population aged under 25 years  2015 20.9 % 20.3 % Eurostat
Prison population rate (per 100 000 of national population) 4  2014 83.1  : Council of Europe, SPACE I-2014.1
At risk of poverty rate 5  2014 15.6 % 17.2 %  SILC

Contact information for our focal point

Address and contact: 

Health Research Board

Grattan House, 67–72 Lower Mount Street
Dublin 2
Tel. +353 12345168

Head of national focal point: Mr Brian Galvin

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