Home > Illicit drug use in the Traveller community.

Long, Jean (2006) Illicit drug use in the Traveller community. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 20, Winter 2006, pp. 6-7.

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Professor Jane Fountain of the University of Central Lancashire assessed the nature and extent of illicit drug use in the Traveller community in Ireland.  The report was commissioned by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and launched in October 2006.1 

The report provides data on drug use, the patterns of drug use, problematic drug use, drug-related risk behaviours, the effect of drug use on the Traveller community and gaps in service provision. The data-collection techniques included a comprehensive review of the literature, interviews with 34 agency staff, focus groups with 122 Travellers and one-to-one interviews with 15 Travellers who were using or had used drugs. The data were analysed thematically using a grounded theory approach.

According to this report, it is estimated that there are 30,000 Travellers in Ireland and a further 15,000 in the UK. Many of those living in the UK travel between there and Ireland on a regular basis. Travellers have their own language and distinct culture, with a unique value system and specific customs and traditions. Successive governments have introduced legislation and policies to protect the rights of Travellers, but many of these are not implemented in a systematic way throughout the country. Travellers continue to experience discrimination and marginalisation. The author reported that they are socially excluded and do not have equal access to education, health care, employment or accommodation. Traveller children are six times more likely to be cared for by local authorities than children in the general population.  The Traveller community, like other socially excluded populations, is vulnerable to problematic drug use.

As the author notes, the 2002/2003 national survey of drug use in the general population2 did not record ethnicity, and nor does the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS).  Consequently, there are no reliable estimates of either drug use or treated problem drug use among the Traveller population. Following requests from some of the addiction service managers, the NDTRS will introduce a system to identify the number of Irish Travellers seeking treatment from 2007 onwards.

Qualitative research indicates that cannabis, sedatives, tranquillisers and antidepressants are the drugs most commonly used in the Traveller community. These are followed by cocaine and, to a lesser extent, ecstasy. These findings mirror the pattern of drug use in the general population. In addition, the Traveller population reported occasional use of amphetamines. The less common substances used by Travellers were heroin, crack cocaine, LSD and solvents, again mirroring the pattern in the general population. Injecting drug use among the Traveller community was not commonly reported. As in the general population survey, more male than female Travellers used drugs, and those in the age range between adolescence and early thirties were more likely to be users. The impact of drug use on Traveller users included poor personal health, involvement in criminal activity, exclusion from the family and the broader community, and stigmatisation. Members of the drug user’s family were likely to suffer from stress.

The Travellers interviewed described some of the ways their community dealt with drug use, including home detoxification, avoiding drug-using friends, promising a priest not to use any more drugs and seeking treatment. The author reported that formal treatment was rarely sought. There was no consensus on how to deal with drug dealing in the Traveller community and it was reported that the gardaí were reluctant to tackle the issue. There was evidence throughout the research findings that there was a lack of knowledge about drugs and drug use among Travellers. There are a number of barriers to accessing drug treatment services: lack of awareness of such services, lack of formal education, stigma and embarrassment, lack of cultural competence among service providers and perceptions of racism within services.

The key recommendations of the report were:

·       Develop procedures on ethnic monitoring.

·       Carry out equality proofing of policies and procedures in social, health and drug-related services.

·       Increase awareness of drugs and drug use among Travellers using appropriate methods.

·       Adapt the existing drug services so that Travellers can access them.

·       Implement a process to engage the Traveller community in addressing drug use.

·       Conduct further research.


1. Fountain J (2006) An overview of the nature and extent of illicit drug use amongst the Traveller Community: an exploratory study. Dublin: Stationery Office.

2. National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Drug and Alcohol Information and Research Unit (2005) Drug use in Ireland and Northern Ireland. 2002/2003 drug prevalence survey. Health Board (Ireland and Health and Social Services Board (Northern Ireland) results (revised). Bulletin 2.  Dublin: NACD.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Issue Title
Issue 20, Winter 2006
October 2006
Page Range
pp. 6-7
Health Research Board
Issue 20, Winter 2006
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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