Home > Drug use among new communities in Ireland: an exploratory study.

Keane, Martin (2005) Drug use among new communities in Ireland: an exploratory study. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 14, Summer 2005, pp. 15-16.

PDF (Drugnet Ireland, issue 14) - Published Version

This research was carried out by Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) and aimed to develop an in-depth understanding of problematic drug use among new communities in Ireland.1


Data collection methods

Three members from new communities (a Russian, a Romanian and a Nigerian) were recruited and trained in ethnographic fieldwork techniques. The recruits then carried out 280 hours of fieldwork, which included observing drug users in their own social setting and recording informal discussions with drug users and key informants in a daily diary. Fieldwork included semi-structured in-depth interviews with 10 individuals from new communities who identified themselves as problematic drug users. Six interviewees were from Africa, three from the former USSR and one from Central/Eastern Europe. In addition, two focus groups were conducted by the Merchants Quay research unit: one with individuals working with new communities in Ireland and one with drug service providers.


Patterns of drug use among new communities

Seven interviewees reported heroin and three reported cocaine as their respective drugs of choice. Five interviewees reported injecting heroin but the sharing of injecting equipment was not prevalent. There were also reports of drug injecting taking place among individuals from Russia, Estonia and Pakistan. It was reported that injecting practices were uncommon among individuals from Africa, who tended to smoke heroin. Some members of the Somali community were reported to be using Khat, a chewable green leaf stimulant, while some members of the Russian community were reported to make a special porridge called Kasha, laced with cannabis.

Factors influencing drug use

Interviewees and drug users encountered during the fieldwork cited escape from their current situation as a reason for continuing or initiating drug use. Their current experiences included feeling excluded, isolated and fearful of state authorities. Some reported using drugs to escape episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder arising from their experiences of war and torture prior to arriving in Ireland. Four interviewees had no history of problematic drug use prior to arriving in Ireland while one had ceased using drugs for 10 years and had restarted in Ireland. Younger members of new communities were reported to use drugs as a means of mixing with and gaining acceptance from Irish peer groups, mainly in recreational settings such as clubs.


Ethnicity, drug use and social exclusion

Issues of social exclusion were particularly prominent among the interviewees. Seven were staying in emergency accommodation hostels; two were staying with friends and one in private rented accommodation. Eight interviewees were unemployed and two in full-time employment. Four were seeking asylum, four were undocumented immigrants, one was documented as a labour migrant and one had refugee status.

Barriers to accessing drug services

The majority of interviewees (7) expressed an interest in accessing treatment for their drug use but highlighted a number of barriers that prevented their engaging with services. For example:

  • There was scant knowledge of methadone maintenance programmes among interviewees, and some were persuaded by their Irish peers to treat methadone with skepticism as it was perceived to be as addictive as heroin.
  • Those with knowledge of methadone maintenance reported waiting lists and the assessment procedure as discouraging barriers.
  • Many associated treatment with abstinence and were unaware of harm reduction approaches (only two used a needle exchange in Ireland).
  • Promotional material on treatment services was rarely available in the appropriate language.
  • Some felt uncomfortable with the idea of 'group therapy' where the majority of participants were Irish.
  • Treatment options were poor, and few addressed cocaine problems.
  • Finally, fear of being stigmatised by drug workers and fear of services reporting a client’s drug use to the state authorities were reported as significant barriers.

 This research clearly demonstrates the challenge facing drug treatment services in the years to come. As the fieldworkers found, drug users from new communities were particularly difficult to reach, and drug treatment services had practically no knowledge on drug use in new communities. Only one female drug user from a new community could be interviewed, raising the question of how to reach female drug users in new communities. In addition, it would appear that drug users from new communities come to Ireland from countries with little awareness of harm reduction techniques, therefore the likelihood of their using needle exchange or low-threshold services is remote. However, the research concludes with some timely recommendations on how to make drug services more accessible to drug users from new communities. For example:

  • Drug services need to produce culturally sensitive material in different languages.
  • A drugs outreach team should be set up in Dublin to target drug users from new communities, using peer-based approaches.
  • Outreach teams should make contact with female drug users from new communities at general health promotion and maternity agencies.
  • Drug services should specifically target stimulant users.
  • Drug services should recruit staff from new communities.
  • Anti-racist training should be provided to staff and clients in drug services.
  • Drug services and the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS) should include the collection of ethnic-specific data.

 1. Merchants Quay Ireland (2004) Drug use among new communities in Ireland: An exploratory study. Dublin: National Advisory Committee on Drugs.


Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Issue Title
Issue 14, Summer 2005
April 2005
Page Range
pp. 15-16
Drugnet Ireland
Issue 14, Summer 2005
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

Repository Staff Only: item control page