Home > Substance use in the Traveller community in the WRDTF area.

Keane, Martin (2009) Substance use in the Traveller community in the WRDTF area. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 30, Summer 2009, pp. 11-12.

[img] PDF (Drugnet Ireland, issue 30) - Published Version

 The Western Region Drugs Task Force (WRDTF) has published a report on the nature and extent of substance use, and use of services, by members of the Traveller community in the west of Ireland.1 This is the second in a series of three reports on substance use in the region commissioned by the WRDTF.

Data were collected from 57 focus groups that included both adult and younger members of the Traveller community. Interviews and consultations were held with 45 service providers, including services dealing specifically with substance use among Travellers. The fieldwork was complemented by prior consultation with stakeholders, desktop research and a literature review.
Service providers reported a marked increase in problematic drug and alcohol use among Travellers in the last 10 years in the west of Ireland. Substance use was mainly seen as an escape from depression, poor health, difficulties with employment and strained relationships with the settled community. In terms of risk, older Travellers reported a fear of drugs and potential overdose, with younger Travellers indicating an acceptance of the use of drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy as relatively normal.
According to service providers, alcohol remains the substance of most concern in this community, and increasing levels of use were reported among Traveller men and more recently among single Traveller women. Some Travellers were aware of 'drink problems' in their community, and reported that such problems were usually dealt with within the family. Service providers felt that because Travellers are discriminated against in certain pubs, they buy cheap alcohol from supermarkets, which contributes to high levels of consumption in the home and at halting sites.  They reported that high levels of alcohol use can contribute to violence in the home and when family break-up occurs and 'the head of the house' (usually the male) leaves the family home, the women often resort to alcohol and prescribed medication.
Travellers commented that there are visibly 'more drugs'in urban areas in the west in the past two years, and that drugs are increasingly available in the region as a whole in comparison to the situation 10-15 years ago. Ecstasy, speed, hash and cocaineare the drugs most commonly used. Polysubstance use is common, most often in the following combinations: alcohol and hash/cannabis; alcohol and benzodiazepines; benzodiazepines and Solpadeine; Solpadeine and alcohol; cocaine and alcohol; Red Bull and Anadin; Zamadol and Coca-Cola; Anadin and Coca-Cola and painkillers and alcohol. According to service providers, Traveller males use hash, cocaine and ecstasy and Traveller women tend to use prescription medication. Despite some anecdotal reports of heroin (smoking), crack cocaine and cocaine use, the majority of service providers reported little direct evidence to suggest that these substances are widely used.
 Levels of illicit drug use among young Traveller women were perceived to be lower than those reported by young women in the general population. This was often attributed to the degree of monitoring, parental control and restriction of income of young women in Traveller communities. However, there were reports that young Traveller women use night sedation medication and benzodiazepines.
 Drug dealing
Mixed views existed on the nature and extent of drug dealing in the Traveller community. The general consensus was that it exists but is not widespread and that users tend to obtain their drugs through their own families and have little contact with dealers in the settled community. Some Travellers were concerned that both Traveller and settled drug dealers were recruiting young Travellers to act as 'runners' and were therefore also providing them with an introduction to drugs and context for use.
 Drug awareness and information
Travellers felt the level of drug awareness within their community was quite low. Older Travellers viewed illicit drugs as a sensitive and 'taboo' topic. The majority of Travellers who had participated in drug awareness training felt that it was not suitable for a Traveller group, as it was not based on their values and beliefs. The most pervasive theme was the importance of involving the Travellers in drug education and prevention, and taking into consideration their norms and cultural values in the delivery of such services and educational materials. It was remarked that Travellers 'would prefer information from Travellers'.
 This research is welcome and builds on what is already known about substance use in the Traveller community. The main findings are similar to those of a 2006 study,2  and show that levels of illicit drug use among Travellers are low compared to those in the general population, particularly in the case of Class A drugs such as heroin and cocaine. This research shows the influence of informal 'social controls' that pertain in some Traveller communities. These informal mechanisms are often credited with reducing the use of illicit drugs among young Traveller women, but appear to be less effective in reducing the use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs by young women.
1. Van Hout MC (2009) Substance misuse in the Traveller community: a regional needs assessment. Galway: Western Region Drugs Task Force.
2. Fountain J (2006) An overview of the nature and extent of illicit drug use amongst the Traveller community: an exploratory study. Dublin: National Advisory Committee on Drugs.


Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Issue Title
Issue 30, Summer 2009
Page Range
pp. 11-12
Health Research Board
Issue 30, Summer 2009
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

Repository Staff Only: item control page