Home > Drug-related research in Ireland 2001–2008.

Galvin, Brian and Farragher, Louise (2008) Drug-related research in Ireland 2001–2008. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 26, Summer 2008, pp. 12-13.

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As Ireland's National Drugs Strategy (NDS) 2001–2008 is being reviewed, it is useful to consider how the research infrastructure has developed during this period and what contribution research has made to achieving the Strategy’s aim to have 'valid, timely and comparable data on the extent and nature of drug misuse in Ireland'. 

 Information providers
For several years prior to the NDS the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS), maintained by the Drug Misuse Research Division (DMRD, now called the Alcohol and Drug Research Unit, ADRU) of the Health Research Board (HRB), was the main source of information on drug misuse in Ireland and the DMRD supplied the EU with the data required for comparative analysis of the drug situation in the member states. In the year prior to the launch of the NDS, the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) was established to address remaining research and information gaps. Together with the DMRD, the NACD was given responsibility for providing the quality information and the comprehensive and comparable data essential to the delivery of a successful drugs strategy and to fulfilling Ireland's commitment to the EU in this area.1
Developments in research during the lifetime of the NDS are considered below.
1.     Prevalence dataThe NDS Review Group recognised the limitations of methods which extrapolated from treatment figures, and from statistics on drug-related arrests and deaths, to produce estimates of the prevalence of opiate use.   A major task facing the NACD at the time was to determine how best the size and nature of the drug problem in Ireland could be measured.   In 2005 the NACD published the findings of a major survey of households in Ireland and Northern Ireland carried out in 2002/2003. This survey was repeated in 2006/2007 and the results published in 2008. The NACD has also commissioned studies on drug prevalence among vulnerable groups, including the homeless, new communities in Ireland and Travellers.
2.     Treatment data The NDS Review Group recommended changes to ensure that treatment facilities reported problem drug use to the DMRD (now ADRU) in order to improve the efficiency and quality of flow of this information. The ADRU manages the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS), an anonymised epidemiological database that records demand for treatment for problem alcohol and drug use. The NDTRS is one of two national registers that record drug treatment in Ireland; the other is the Central Treatment List (CTL), an administrative database used to regulate the dispensing of methadone treatment. The CTL is a complete register of all patients receiving methadone (as treatment for problem opiate use) in Ireland.
Following a review of the NDTRS a concerted effort was made to improve the completeness and accuracy of recorded data from 2001.2 In early 2008 the HRB was able to publish trends in treated drug use across Ireland between 2001 and 2006. In 2006 the NACD published the results of a longitudinal study evaluating the effectiveness of drug treatment (ROSIE). This study found that there was a significant reduction in heroin and other drug use one year after treatment uptake.
3.     Drug-related deaths The NDS recommended that Ireland should develop a dedicated system for recording drug-related deaths, a capacity essential for comparative analysis with other countries. The NDS envisaged that this task would be undertaken by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), who had responsibility for maintaining the General Mortality Register. However, in 2005 the ADRU, on behalf of the departments of Justice and Health, established the National Drug-Related Deaths Index (NDRDI), a census of drug-related deaths (such as those due to accidental or intentional overdose) and deaths among drug users (such as those due to hepatitis C and HIV). The NDRDI is a multi-source index, extracting and matching data from coroners’ files, the CTL, the Hospital In-Patient Enquiry Scheme (HIPE), and the General Mortality Register.
4.     Drug-related infectious diseases (HIV, hepatitis) The NDS Review Group used statistics compiled by the Department of Health and Children as the main source of information on HIV and hepatitis infection among drug users in the general population. Two major reports provided a detailed picture of the prevalence of drug-related infectious diseases in prisons. There have been some developments in this area during the lifetime of the NDS. The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) introduced an extended surveillance system for hepatitis B in 2004 and for hepatitis C in 2007. In 2006 the HRB published an overview on blood-borne viral infections among injecting drug users in Ireland between 1995 and 2005. However, there has been no concerted effort to monitor the incidence and prevalence of hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV among drug users since the NDS was launched.
5.     Drug-related arrest and offences and drug seizures The annual reports of the Garda Síochána were the source of information on drug-related arrests and offences and on seizures referred to by the Review Group. Since then, improved data management by Garda authorities has led to improvements in the quality of these data. The Garda Síochána Act 2005 transferred responsibility for the compilation and publication of recorded crime statistics from An Garda Síochána to the CSO.  In 2008 the CSO adopted a new classification system for criminal offences in its new publication Garda recorded crime statistics 2003–2006. The new system includes a distinct category of ‘controlled drug offences’, broken down into three sections covering supply, possession and other drug offences.  
Developments under the last of these indicators are a good example of how the increase in research and information-gathering capacity since 2001 in certain areas can affect capacity in apparently unrelated areas.   For instance, the NACD’s selection of drugs and crime as a priority area and its decision to support specific research projects in this field, including a major study on drug markets, were based on evidence derived from the ROSIE study, research on vulnerable groups mentioned above, community studies and drug trend monitoring, as well as on specific studies on drugs and crime undertaken by the HRB. 
The first years of the new drugs strategy will see more of this cross-fertilisation as information from dedicated prevalence studies, more comprehensive and accurate treatment demand data and drug-related deaths data are published and assimilated and we come closer to closing the information gaps identified by the NACD.3 The bodies charged with implementing the actions under the various pillars of the new strategy will thus be able to work in a much richer information environment than prevailed in 2001. (Brian Galvin and Louise Farragher))
1. The HRB and NACD publications referred to are available on the organisations’ websites at www.hrb.ie.
2. Kavanagh P, Long J and Barry J (2006) Completeness and accuracy of the drug treatment reporting system in Dublin, Ireland. Irish Journal of Medical Science, 175 (3): 52–56.
3. In its 2005–2008 business plan the NACD matched its work programme to most of the gaps identified by the Interim Advisory Committee on Drugs in 2000. Most of the remaining gaps relate to criminal justice issues and cost effectiveness in delivery of treatment, prevention and other interventions.
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Issue Title
Issue 26, Summer 2008
Page Range
pp. 12-13
Health Research Board
Issue 26, Summer 2008
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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