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Sinclair, Hamish (2004) Trends in drug use among young people. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 11, June 2004 , pp. 2-3.

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Two recently published surveys examine prevalence and patterns of both licit and illicit drug use in post-primary school students in two health board areas. Both survey are in fact follow-ups to earlier surveys, so they provide a valuable insight into drug use trends among young people. Each survey will be discussed in turn in this article.  

North Eastern Health Board survey

In November 2003 the Department of Public Health in the North Eastern Health Board (NEHB) published the results of a survey on smoking, alcohol and drug use among young people in Counties Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and Meath.1 The survey, which was carried out in 2002, covered post-primary school students aged 12–19 years. Using a multistage stratified random sampling method, the researchers surveyed a total of 1,426 students from 24 schools. The anonymous questionnaire used in the survey (administered in the classroom setting by a research officer) allowed comparisons with a previous school survey in the NEHB in 1997

In terms of illicit drug use, the survey found that 41 per cent of students had taken at least one illicit drug2 in their lifetime. This was six per cent higher than in the 1997 NEHB survey. In 2002, more girls than boys reported that they had ever taken an illicit drug (boys 41 per cent, girls 42 per cent), compared to 1997 (boys 37 per cent, girls 32 per cent). The large increase in lifetime prevalence of any illicit drug for girls is a cause for concern since it may reflect a growing willingness to experiment with drugs.

Cannabis was the most commonly used illicit drug. Thirty-one per cent of students reported using cannabis at some stage in their lifetime, an increase of over six per cent since the previous survey (see table below). Just under thirteen per cent stated that they had used cannabis in the past month, an increase of over three per cent since 1997.

Cannabis use

NEHB (1997)

%

NEHB (2002)

%

During lifetime

24.6

31.0

During last month

9.4

12.8

  Inhalants (glue, aerosols, etc.) were the second most commonly used drugs in the north east region. Lifetime and last month use of inhalants was higher in 2002 than in 1997 (see table below). 

Inhalant use

NEHB (1997)

%

NEHB (2002)

%

During lifetime

18.9

21.8

During last month

2.0

2.5

Results from the 2002 survey suggest that younger people were being approached with offers of drugs more so than in 1997 and the person offering these drugs was someone that their friends knew or was their best or very good friend. This latter finding highlights the potential influence of peers in the use of drugs and points to the need for strategies aimed at facilitating young people to identify and resist peer influences. 

Another notable finding from the survey was the relationship that emerged between smoking, alcohol consumption and illicit drug use. Regular smokers (smoking at least one cigarette per day) were more likely to have been offered illicit drugs or to have taken an illicit drug: they were more than six times more likely to report using an illicit drug in the last month than were non-smokers. The same pattern was also apparent among regular drinkers (consuming one or more alcoholic drinks per week), though not as strong as for regular smokers. The report notes that these findings ‘point to the potency of alcohol and, especially, tobacco in illicit drug use and serve as support for considering these substances as gateway drugs.’ The report goes on to stress that ‘gateway drugs do not necessarily cause young people to use harder drugs, but using these substances may set up patterns of behaviour that may make it easier to progress to using other drugs or may result in young people frequenting places where they can get or be offered illicit drugs’. 

 

Mid-Western Health Board survey

In January 2003 the Department of Public Health in the Mid-Western Health Board (MWHB) published a survey of smoking, alcohol and drug use by teenagers in Counties Clare, Limerick and Tipperary NR.3 The survey, which was carried out in 2002, covered post-primary school students aged 13-19 years. Using a multistage stratified random sampling method, the researchers surveyed a total of 2,297 students from 23 schools. The anonymous questionnaire used in the survey (administered in the classroom setting by the researchers or by teachers) allowed comparisons with a previous school survey in the MWHB in 1988. The report’s findings are based on valid responses from 2,279 students.

In terms of drug use, the survey found that 39 per cent of students had used at least one drug4 in their lifetime. This was almost ten per cent higher than in the 1998 MWHB survey. Cannabis was the most commonly used illicit drug: 29 per cent of students reported using cannabis at some stage in their lifetime, again an increase of almost ten per cent since the previous survey (see table below). Fifteen per cent of students stated that they had used cannabis in the month prior to the survey, an increase of seven per cent since 1998.

Cannabis use

MWHB (1998)

%

MWHB (2002)

%

During lifetime

19.0

28.6

During last month

8.4

15.4

Inhalants (glue, aerosols, etc.) were the second most commonly used drugs in the mid-west region and both lifetime and last month use increased since 1998 (see table below). 

Inhalant use

MWHB (1998)

%

MWHB (2002)

%

During lifetime

13.6

21.3

During last month

2.7

6.4

Most students in the 2002 survey indicated that cannabis was the first illicit drug they had used, that a friend was the main source of this drug and that ‘curiosity’ was the main reason why they chose to experiment with drugs. In 1998 the most common reason for experimenting with drugs was ‘everyone else does it’. These findings highlight the potential influence of peers in the first use of drugs. 

In terms of alcohol use in MWHB, lifetime prevalence rates for alcohol consumption were higher in the 2002 than in the 1998 survey (90 per cent compared to 82 per cent). However, the current (last month) drinking rate in 2002 was lower than in the previous survey (62 per cent compared to 68 per cent). While the drop in current alcohol consumption is encouraging, it was found that the rates of both lifetime and last month alcohol use were higher among girls than boys. This was a reversal of the pattern found in the 1998 survey and is a cause of concern.

The most popular alcoholic drinks with male students were beer and cider, while females preferred alcopops and spirit-based drinks. When asked about drinking five or more drinks in a row in the past 30 days (binge drinking), 44 per cent of students reported having done so; 23 per cent of students reported indulging in binge drinking on three or more occasions during the past 30 days, which is regarding internationally as ‘rather intensive alcohol consumption’.5 The frequency of binge drinking increased with age. The report notes that alcohol use by school-going teenagers in the mid-west region is still at ‘undesirable levels’ particularly in light of the fact that 85 per cent of students were under the legal drinking age.              

A key performance indicator under the prevention pillar of the National Drugs Strategy 2001– 2008 is to bring drug misuse by school-goers to below the EU average and, as a first step, to reduce the level of substance misuse reported to the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) by school-goers by 15 per cent by 2003 and by 25 per cent by 2007 (based on 1999 ESPAD levels). The results of the 2003 ESPAD survey should be available later this year.

The reports, Teenage smoking, alcohol and drug use in the Mid-Western Health Board region 2002 and Smoking, alcohol & drug use among young people are both available on the National Documentation Centre website at http://www.hrb.ie/ndc

1. Flanagan E, Bedford D, O’Farrell A and Howell F (2004) Smoking, alcohol & drug use among young people. North Eastern Health Board: Department of Public Health. 

2. Includes cannabis, inhalants, ecstasy, speed, magic mushrooms, cough syrup, cocaine, LSD, heroin and barbiturates (note: not all these drugs are illicit). 

3. Kelleher K, Cowley H and Houghton F (2004) Teenage smoking, alcohol and drug use in the Mid-Western Health Board region 2002. Mid-Western Health Board: Department of Public Health. 

4. Includes cannabis, inhalants, ecstasy, magic mushrooms, tranquillisers without prescription, amphetamines, crack, cocaine, heroin and LSD. 

5. Hibell B et al. (2000) The 1999 ESPAD Report. Alcohol and other drug use among students in 30 European countries. Stockholm: The Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (CAN), Co-operation Group to Combat Drug Abuse and illicit Trafficking in Drugs (Pompidou Group) at the Council of Europe. 

Item Type
Article
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Cannabis, Inhalents and solvents
Issue Title
Issue 11, June 2004
Date
June 2004
Page Range
pp. 2-3
Publisher
Health Research Board
Volume
Issue 11, June 2004
EndNote
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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