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Home > Community awareness and perceptions of substance use in Cork and Kerry.

Pike, Brigid (2007) Community awareness and perceptions of substance use in Cork and Kerry. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 21, spring 2007 , p. 5.

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In the last issue of Drugnet Ireland the findings of the report Smoking, Alcohol and Drug Use in Cork and Kerry 2004 1 in respect of alcohol consumption and drug use were described.2 Comparisons with the findings of an earlier study by the same author, Dr Timothy Jackson, in 1996, and with the results of other recent studies of substance use in Ireland, were also described.


In this article the findings of the report in respect of community awareness of illicit drugs and perceptions of drug-related issues are described, along with comparisons with the 1996 findings.3 Mirroring the trend shown by the research that drug and alcohol use in the region had increased since 1996, the study also found that awareness of illicit drugs and drug use in the region had increased over the past eight years and that attitudes and opinions on substance misuse issues had shifted.



Awareness of almost all drugs had increased since 1996. Significant increases were also found in the proportion of respondents claiming personal knowledge of drug situations, including knowing someone who had been offered drugs, had taken drugs in the last five years or regularly took drugs, or being in social gatherings in the last five years where drugs were taken by others. Since 1996 the proportion of respondents with such knowledge had increased for cannabis, cocaine, crack and heroin, while dropping for ecstasy, magic mushrooms and LSD. As in 1996, the main source of awareness among all respondents of people using drugs in their area was personal contacts.


Responses to a question about the harmfulness of individual drugs showed that, as in 1996, heroin, ecstasy, crack, cocaine and LSD were considered the most harmful, and cannabis the least harmful. Medically prescribed drugs fell midway in the ranking. The author reports that cannabis use was twice as frequent among those who thought the substance least harmful as among those who saw it as harmful. This difference had reduced since 1996, suggesting ‘increasing tolerance of Cannabis in the population’ (p. 119). On the other hand, the author reports that, despite their ranking among the most harmful drugs, ecstasy and LSD were also among the drugs reported as most frequently used.


With regard to ‘gateway drugs’, respondents were asked whether and to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the  statement that people who use cannabis (and other ‘softer’ drugs) are likely to progress onto ‘harder’ drugs such as heroin or cocaine. The response indicates that the level of agreement with this statement had declined since 1996.


Respondents were asked to state how much of a problem they thought certain drug-related activities were in their area (i.e. within five minutes’ walk). Using drugs was the most widely perceived ‘very big’ or ‘fairly big’ problem (45%), followed by drug-related criminal activities, including people being offered drugs for sale (36%), crimes committed by people acting under the influence of drugs (34%) and thieving in order to get money to buy drugs (30%). Perceptions that there were ‘very big’ or ‘fairly big’ drug-related problems in local areas had fallen ‘slightly but significantly’ since 1996, except for crimes committed by people under the influence of drugs and people becoming ill or dying due to the use of drugs, where perceptions of their seriousness had increased. Perceptions that there were drug-related problems were found to be more frequent among respondents in Cork City and County Kerry than in Cork County, among manual workers and small farmers (on 49 acres or less) than among professional, managerial and business people and larger farmers (see report for details of social classification system used in analysis), and among those living in deprived urban areas.


While 55% of respondents supported current drug prohibition laws, ‘quite a significant minority’ (33%) were of the opinion that some drugs (e.g. cannabis) should be legal, but with restrictions (e.g. licensing of a few shops/bars only). Since 1996 there had been a 12% increase in support for the legalisation of cannabis with restrictions, and a corresponding drop (14%) in support for continuing prohibition of all currently illegal drugs.  Those who had ever taken drugs showed markedly greater support for the legalisation of cannabis and the relaxation of the prohibition laws, compared to those who had never taken drugs.


Drugs and alcohol

Responses to a question about whether alcohol or drugs caused more problems in society showed a reversal of opinion. In 1996, 81% of respondents considered drugs to be an equal or greater problem than alcohol, but by 2004 this proportion had dropped to 61%. Conversely, in 1996, 40% considered alcohol to be an equal or greater problem than illicit drugs, but by 2004 this proportion had grown by 27%. Disagreement with the statement that there is little difference in health terms between smoking cannabis and smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol had declined somewhat since 1996.


1.    Jackson TMR (2006) Smoking, alcohol and drug use in Cork and Kerry 2004. Cork: Department of Public Health, HSE South.

2.    Fanagan S (2007) Repeat survey of substance use in Cork and Kerry. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 20: 1–2.

3.    The sampling and research methods used in the study are outlined in Fanagan (2007).  The information in this article is based on data gathered in the first part of the research. Field workers employed by TNS mrbi used a structured questionnaire to record responses during face-to-face interviews with individual respondents. These data were coded in SPSS and subjected to varied statistical tests. Results from the structured interviews regarding respondents’ views on alcohol and smoking policies, their knowledge of substance use services and their leisure activities are not described in this article.

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