Home > A community drugs study.

Reynolds, Siobhan (2007) A community drugs study. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 21, spring 2007, pp. 1-2.

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On 23 November 2006, Noel Ahern TD, Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, launched A community drugs study: developing community indicators for problem drug use.1 Dr Hilda Loughran and Dr Mary Ellen McCann of University College Dublin completed the study on behalf of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD). This report focused on three communities’ experiences of the changes in the drug situation and responses to it between 1996 and 2004. The three communities selected were Ballymun, Bray and Crumlin. Minister Ahern said ‘this report provides evidence of the impact and effectiveness of Government policy on drugs since 1996’.


The objectives of the study as stated in the report (p. 8) were:

·       To explore [communities’] experiences of drug issues from 1996 to 2004

·       To describe initiatives developed between 1996 and 2002 which the communities perceive to have influenced any change

·       To explore how the communities experienced their involvement in planning and implementation of such initiatives

·       To assess how the then community infrastructure affected the communities’ experiences.


A grounded theory approach was used to gather and analyse the data collected through focus groups, in-depth interviews, key participant interviews, transcriptions from team meetings, local documentation and reflections of the research co-ordinators. Local people were recruited and trained as community researchers, who then recruited the participants through their community network.  A total of 97 participants were interviewed across the three sites. All data collected were transcribed, coded and analysed in order to construct individual community profiles for the period 1996 to 2004 and identify themes across the three community profiles. Twelve themes emerged.


The key findings of the study were:

·         Between 1996 and 2004, polydrug use (which includes alcohol) replaced heroin as the main drug problem for all of the communities involved in the study. The misuse of both prescribed and non-prescribed benzodiazepines was noted. The use of cannabis was seen as widespread and had become a ‘normal’ practice by the end of the study period.

·         Alcohol misuse had a major negative effect on the lives of residents in the communities. The more problematic aspects of alcohol use were under-age drinking and subsequent anti-social behaviour among this age group. The easy availability of alcohol was due to an increase in local supermarkets and off-licences in the three communities during the study period.

·         There was an improvement in the provision of opiate treatment and community-based treatment interventions between 1996 and 2004. Methadone substitution programmes had some impact on heroin use but failed to tackle other drugs. Concerns were raised regarding the lack of treatment facilities for young people, in particular for alcohol.

·         Drug-related deaths and deaths among drug users caused devastation in the three communities. In general, these were premature deaths of young people. There was a general perception that official statistics did not reflect the total numbers who died or the impact of these deaths on other family members and the community at large.

·         A general sense of fear, vulnerability and intimidation was experienced among the communities as a result of open drug dealing in public areas. People reported that there had been a decrease in the use of public spaces after dark since 1996.

·         A reduction in some types of crime was observed between 1996 and 2004, but the later phase of the study noted an increase in the number of murders associated with drug dealing.

·         Participants reported a deteriorating relationship between the community and the gardaí.

·         There was an increase in the number of children under 15 years who stayed in school and an increase in those who completed the Leaving Certificate during the reporting period. In some cases, school absenteeism replaced early school leaving.

·         Employment opportunities had increased during the reporting period, and fewer people were unemployed in 2004.


The report states ‘It was evident from the data that there were different perceptions among community members as to the prevalence of drug use in their areas, and the consequences of different patterns of drug use’ (p. 77). This is due to the diversity of the communities and the difficulty in gathering data. The report’s main conclusion is that a community-based reporting system is required to identify changes in the drug situation in specific communities.


1.  Loughran H and McCann ME (2006) A community drugs study: developing community indicators for problem drug use. Dublin: Stationery Office.

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