Home > Drugs and crime in Ireland.

Connolly, Johnny (2006) Drugs and crime in Ireland. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 18, Summer 2006, pp. 1-3.

PDF (Drugnet Ireland, issue 18) - Published Version

The illicit drug market and associated crime have a corrosive impact on Irish public life and society – whether in terms of the high-profile killing of rivals in the internecine world of Dublin drug gangs, the fear and intimidation of the impoverished communities within which they mostly ply their trade or the petty thefts and robberies committed by drug users to support their addiction. Because of the huge profits which can be derived from the illicit drug market and the increasing public demand for illicit substances, initiatives aimed at deterring criminal organisations or individual criminals from involvement in drug trafficking face major challenges. Drug law enforcement activities may have contributed to the relative containment of illicit drug use and the authorities have had some success in disrupting drug markets and dismantling organised crime groups. However, there is little evidence in Ireland or internationally that such strategies have halted the expansion of the illicit drug market or reduced the criminal activities surrounding it for any sustained period of time.1

 Drugs and crime in Ireland,2 the third title in the Drug Misuse Research Division’s Overview series, was published in May 2006. The purpose of this Overview was to compile and analyse existing data and available research on drug offences and drug-related crime, to identify gaps in knowledge and to inform future research needs in this important area of drug policy.


The link between drugs and crime in Ireland exists simply by virtue of prevailing legislation which defines as criminal offences the importation, manufacture, trade in and possession, other than by prescription, of most psychoactive substances. Offences committed under this legislation are reported in the annual reports of An Garda Síochána. Overview 3 describes and analyses trends in drug offences since 1983. The limitations of official statistics in terms of describing the overall crime picture have been highlighted by a number of writers in this area. These limitations, specifically in relation to drug-related crime, are considered in the Overview.

Although the link between drugs and crime has been firmly established in the public consciousness in Ireland, there has been little sustained examination of the precise nature of this link. Most Irish drug users who receive sentences of imprisonment, for example, are punished, not for drug offences per se, but for offences committed as a consequence of their drug use, such as theft from the person, burglary, larceny or prostitution. Research studies have identified this clear link between some forms of illicit drug use and crime – findings which are consistent throughout criminological literature. Although the link between drug use, addiction and crime has been established by international and Irish research, identifying the precise causative connection between drugs and crime has been a primary preoccupation of many writers in this area. For the purpose of this Overview, the available research evidence is reviewed using four explanatory causal models: the psycho-pharmacological model, which identifies the drugs–crime link as arising as a result of the intoxicating effect of the drugs themselves; the economic-compulsive model, which assumes that drug users need to generate illicit income from crime to support their drug habit; the systemic model, which explains drug-related crime as resulting from activities associated with the illegal drug market; and the common-cause model, which suggests that there is no direct causal link between drugs and crime but that both drug use and offending behaviour are related to other factors, including socio-economic deprivation.

Another area which is considered in Overview 3 is one which is gaining increased attention in Ireland and throughout the European Union – the link between illicit drug use and driving offences.

Among the key findings are:

Drug offences

  • Drug possession offences account for most drug offences recorded. In 2004, prosecutions for simple possession made up 69 per cent of the total number of prosecutions, while supply offences accounted for 22 per cent of the total. 
  • Cannabis-related prosecutions have consistently formed the vast majority of all drug-related offences prosecuted. 


Drugs and driving

  • The typical profile of the apprehended and tested driver found to be under the influence of drugs is that of a young male, driving in an urban area, with low or zero alcohol level, with a specimen provided between the hours of 6 am and 9 pm and with a presence of cannabinoids.
  • The difficulty of producing a reliable roadside sample-testing device remains an issue in this area.

Drugs and crime: psycho-pharmacological links

  • With regard to the psycho-pharmacological connection between drug use and violent crime, there is overwhelming evidence from the international literature of a connection between alcohol consumption and violence.
  • International evidence of a pharmacological link between illicit drug use and violent crime is inconclusive.

Drugs and economically-motivated crime

  • That there is an economic motivation to commit crime to purchase drugs has been supported by Irish research. This manifests itself in an increase in such crimes following addiction and the reduction of such crimes following participation in closely supervised and well-resourced drug treatment programmes. A number of studies of imprisoned drug users also highlight such links.
  • It has been suggested that a 29 per cent reduction in recorded crime in Ireland between 1995 and 1999 might be partially explained by the increased availability of methadone maintenance programmes throughout the Dublin area during that period.

Drugs and systemic crime

  • Local studies have highlighted the association of local drug markets with significant levels of community disturbance and anti-social behaviour.
  • The operation of local drug markets can engender significant apprehension and a reluctance among local residents to co-operate with law enforcement initiatives because of fear of reprisal from drug dealers.
  • The association of drugs and violent crime with systemic aspects of the drug trade is borne out by the increasing evidence of drug-related gangland murders.

Drug-related crime and gender 

  • A 1999 study of female drug users working in the sex industry found that they differed from non-drug-using women in the same industry in that their primary motivation was to feed their drug habit. The study also found that such women tended to be younger and to have the least favourable health risk profile of all women working in prostitution.
  • A 2001 study of drug-using prison inmates referred to them as ‘reluctant criminals’, in that they engaged in crimes which they perceived involved the lowest risk of arrest.

Common-cause model

  • With regard to the drugs–crime link, studies of drug users have found them typically to be single, aged between 14 and 30, male, urban, often still living in the parental home, from large and often broken families, having left school before the legal minimum age of 16, with high levels of unemployment, with their best ever job being in the lowest socio-economic class, with a high number of criminal convictions and high rates of recidivism, with a history of family members being in prison, and a profile of extreme social disadvantage characterised by being from areas with a high proportion of local authority housing and often by the prevalence of opiate drug use and high levels of long-term unemployment.

The Overview makes a number of recommendations in relation to data limitations and future research in this area. These include the following:

Data limitations

  • In order to enhance our understanding of the way in which drug laws are enforced and the amount of resources being used in this area, data should be compiled on the number of drug-related ‘stop and search’ operations and the number of drug-related arrests which take place.
  • Crime statistics should be compiled and reported as close to the local level as possible.

Drugs and crime

Irish research in this area remains limited both in focus and in quantity. Future research needs to begin from a broader theoretical framework, one which acknowledges the complexity of the relationship between drug use and crime.

  • Research should investigate the pathways and factors which encourage some drug users into further drug use and offending behaviour.
  • Research is urgently needed on the relationship between alcohol and violent crime.
  • Given the evidence in Ireland and elsewhere of the positive connections between drug treatment and a reduction in offending behaviour, further research should be conducted on drug treatment programmes and among drug users in receipt of treatment to ascertain best practice in this area, and the obstacles to progress.
  • Research is required on the relation between drug use, drug-related crime and gender.

The question as to the link between drugs and crime is of more than mere academic relevance. Different conceptions of the link determine the way in which society responds to drug users and also inform debates about drug legislation, crime prevention, drug treatment and law enforcement. The aim of this Overview is to review and analyse the available evidence on drugs and crime in Ireland so as to inform the development of effective responses which can contribute to the reduction of drug-related crime.

1. Stevens A, Trace M and Bewley-Taylor D (2005) Reducing drug-related crime: an overview of the global evidence. Oxford: The Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme. www.internationaldrugpolicy.net/

2. Connolly J (2006) Drugs and crime in Ireland. Overview 3. Dublin: Health Research Board.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Crime prevention
Issue Title
Issue 18, Summer 2006
April 2006
Page Range
pp. 1-3
Health Research Board
Issue 18, Summer 2006
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

Repository Staff Only: item control page