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Home > Substance use among the Irish prisoner population.

Long, Jean (2006) Substance use among the Irish prisoner population. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 18, Summer 2006 , p. 15.

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The first systematic and representative survey of mental health among the Irish prison population using standardised research diagnostic methods was implemented in 2003.1  Using the schedule for schizophrenia and affective disorders (lifetime version) and the severity of dependence questionnaire, researchers assessed the mental health of five distinct samples within the prison population.  The samples were 615 (7%) men committed to prison, 232 (50%) men in custody on remand,2 438 (15%) sentenced men, 94 (9%) women committed to prison and 92 (90%) women in prison.  In total, 1,471 individuals participated in the study, of whom 1,285 were men and 186 were women; one woman commenced but did not complete the study.  Response rates for the five samples ranged between 71% and 90%.  The sample of men serving sentences was representative of the population of men serving sentences (excluding life sentences) with respect to age, length of current sentence and time spent in prison. 


According to the authors, between 61% and 74% of prisoners had a substance use disorder at the time of the survey, with little difference between the proportions of men and women (Table 1). Between 12% and 23% of men had a mental illness (excluding a substance use disorder).  The rate of current mental illness for women was not reported.  Of note, 29% of female committals and 39% of sentenced or remanded women had had a mental illness in the six months prior to the study.  The authors reported that a number of prisoners with mental illness also had a substance misuse disorder.  The rate of drug dependence was higher than the rate of alcohol dependence among male committal and sentenced prisoners.  Higher proportions of women than men were attending drug treatment (including methadone substitution) prior to committal.  


Male committal prisoners1
Male remand prisoners2
Male sentenced prisoners1
Female committal prisoners1
Female sentenced and remand prisoners1
% (95% CI)
Substance use disorder
60.6 (56.7–64.4)
65.6 (61.5–69.5)
65.6 (55.5–74.5)
Alcohol abuse and dependence
36.2 (32.2–39.8)
34.7 (30.9–38.8)
Alcohol dependence
23.4 (20.2–26.9)
27.6 (24.0–31.5)
Drug dependence
32.8 (29.5–37.0)
43.3 (39.3–47.6)
Mental illness (excluding substance use disorder)
11.9 (9.6–14.8)
Co-morbid substance use and mental illness
7.4 (–)
Attended drug treatment prior to committal
Currently receiving methadone substitution


1. Kennedy H, Monks S, Curtin K, Wright B, Linehan S, Duffy D et al. (2005) Mental illness in Irish prisoners: psychiatric morbidity in sentenced, remanded and newly committed prisoners. Dublin: National Forensic Mental Health Service.

2. Linehan S, Duffy D, Wright B, Curtin K, Monks S and Kennedy H (2005) Psychiatric morbidity in a cross-sectional sample of male remanded prisoners. Irish Journal of Psychiatric Medicine, 22 (4): 128–132.


Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Issue Title
Issue 18, Summer 2006
April 2006
Page Range
p. 15
Health Research Board
Issue 18, Summer 2006
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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