Home > Substance use in new communities in the WRDTF area.

Keane, Martin (2009) Substance use in new communities in the WRDTF area. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 30, Summer 2009, pp. 12-13.

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The third in a series of three research reports commissioned by the Western Region Drugs Task Force (WRDTF) explores substance use among new communities in the west of Ireland and identifies barriers to effective use of services.1 New communities include migrant workers, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants who have been granted citizenship. At the time of the 2006 census, there were 48,387 non-nationals living in the west of Ireland.

 The authors state that members of new communities in Ireland come from countries where the rates of substance use among adults are generally lower than they are in this country. They note that Irish research and informal reports from service providers suggest that migrant workers and refugees and asylum seekers are not accessing health services in Ireland because of the high cost of these services, lack of insurance, unfamiliarity with the health system and poor English language skills.
 The authors report that risk factors for substance use in new communities are generally the same as those in other communities, and include mental health issues, social isolation, poor education levels and unemployment. For some members of new communities, post-traumatic stress disorder can interact with experiences of discrimination and social exclusion to increase the risk of substance use. Other factors include the strain of being undocumented, having illegal status, and anxiety about being discovered. Having limited access to medical services except in the case of an emergency can impede access to frontline services such as GPs where substance use may be identified as a problem and treated early.
According to this report, adolescents in new communities can experience isolation due to low levels of supportive peer relationships in school. Additional strain can occur for these young people when they learn new language and cultural practices which reflect the norms of the indigenous population. This may result in a clash with the value system and cultural practices of their family. Taken together, these factors can increase the risk of substance use among young people as they try to fit in with the indigenous culture and deal with social isolation. 
The authors interviewed by phone 18 statutory and voluntary groups involved in the support of new communities or the provision of substance use services to explore their perspective on substance use in these communities. Almost all those contacted had no specific or specialist information on the issue, nor did their organisations have policies or strategies to address the issue.
This research included an analysis of regional press coverage of substance use issues in the west, and particularly in new communities, between 8 and 14 December 2008. The results suggest that there is more media interest in alcohol-related issues than in other drug issues and that there is more ambivalence about alcohol (which is presented as both potentially dangerous and positive and worthy of promotion) than other drugs (which are presented entirely negatively). In relation to the issue at hand, only five articles were identified where members of new communities and alcohol or other drugs were explicitly linked, and just three of those cases concerned drug possession or public drunkenness.
This report mentions a small number of studies on appropriate responses to substance use in new communities. These are highlighted as potential 'starting points' for communication among service providers and, according to the authors, are 'in a sense pragmatic and in some cases "best guesstimates" of what could work'.
The authors uncovered little evidence of substance use as a substantial problem, or one that required immediate action, among new communities in the west of Ireland. However, the reluctance of members of new communities to access health services, as acknowledged in this report, suggests that the views of service providers as to the extent of substance use may not reflect the true situation in the communities. Alternative methods of collecting primary data, such as training people from new communities to undertake in-depth fieldwork, including interviews and observation, may yield a different picture to that conveyed here. A 2004 study using these methods found that heroin and cocaine use were becoming a problem among some sections of new communities in Ireland.2  
1. Kelly C, Fitzpatrick C and Nic Gabhainn S (2009) Substance use in new communities: a way forward. Galway: Western Region Drugs Task Force.
2. Corr C (2004) Drug use among new communities in Ireland: an exploratory study. Dublin: National Advisory Committee on Drugs.

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