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Long, Jean and Mongan, Deirdre (2009) Fourth ESPAD survey on substance use among young people. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 30, Summer 2009, pp. 13-16.

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Mary Wallace TD, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, announced the publication of the fourth European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) on 26 March 2009.1

 ESPAD surveys have been conducted every four years since 1995, using a standardised method and a common questionnaire. The rationale for these surveys is that school students are easily accessible and are at an age when onset of substance use is likely to occur. (By definition, early school leavers, a group known to be vulnerable to alcohol and drug use, are not represented.) ESPAD survey information is valuable in planning prevention initiatives.
 The fourth survey was conducted in 35 European countries during 2007 and collected information on alcohol and illicit drug use among 15-16-year-olds; 2,249 students from 94 randomly selected schools participated, which represents a response rate of 78%. Fewer schools and students participated in 2007 than in 2003.
 The 2007 survey report acknowledges that problems in the wording of the questionnaire affected the comparability of Irish data in relation to beer and cider consumption, and in relation to binge drinking.2 Consequently, this report does not contain Irish data on the volume of alcohol consumed on the last drinking occasion or the frequency of binge drinking.
 In terms of alcohol consumption, the Irish data show unusual trends in both alcohol use and drunkenness. Drunkenness increased between the 1995 and 2003 surveys, but decreased considerably in 2007 (Figure 1).  The percentage of students who had consumed any alcohol in the past 30 days decreased between 2003 and 2007 (from 73% to 56%), while the percentage who had been drunk in the previous 30 days halved (53% in 2003, 26% in 2007).  The 2007 European average for alcohol consumption in the last 30 days was 61% (5 percentage points higher than Ireland), while the European average for drunkenness in the last 30 days was 18% (8 percentage points lower than Ireland
[Please see the PDF document for clear images of figures]
Alchol use and drukenness among school-going children (15-16 years) in Ireland as reported to the ESPAD surveys of 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007
In terms of drug use, the Irish data show a marked decrease in lifetime use of any illicit drug between 2003 (40%) and 2007 (22%),a fall of 18 percentage points (Table 1). As the majority of those who have tried any illicit drug have used cannabis (marijuana or hashish), the decrease in illicit drug use was influenced by the considerable decrease in the number of students who had tried cannabis at some point in their lives, from 39% in 2003 to 20% in 2007 (European average 19%). Lifetime use of solvents/inhalants decreased from 18% in 2003 to 15% in 2007, but remained higher than the European average (9%). In the case of both amphetamines and cocaine powder, the proportions reporting lifetime use increased marginally to just above the European average of 3%. In 2007, one in ten of the survey participants reported that they had taken prescribed tranquillisers or sedatives at some point in their young lives; the use of such drugs had decreased marginally since 1999.
Alcohol used and drunkenness among school-going children (15-16 years) in Ireland as reported to the ESPAD surveys of 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007 
In another national study, the HBSC (Health Behaviour in School-aged Children) survey,3 lifetime cannabis use among 15-17-year-olds was 29% in 2006 compared to 26% in 2002 and 25% in 1998 ( S Nic Gabhainn, personal communication, 2008). The HBSC survey shows a steady marginal increase in cannabis use between 1998 and 2007, whereas the ESPAD survey shows a large increase between 1999 and 2003 and a larger, unexpected decrease between 2003 and 2007 (Figure 2). It is important to investigate the reasons for the variability in alcohol and cannabis use reported in the ESPAD surveys; it could represent a genuine decrease in the use of alcohol and cannabis or a change in the type of sample chosen or the way the questionnaire was administered.  (Jean Long and Deirdre Mongan)
Trends in lifetime cannabis use, as reported by the ESPAD and HBSC survyes at three time points 
1. Hibell B et al. (2009) The 2007 ESPAD report: substance use among students in 35 European countries. Stockholm: The Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (CAN) and the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe.
2. These anomalies are explained in the report (pp. 224-225), and concern the fact that Ireland uses both metric and imperial measures (litres/pints) and has a wide variety of containers for beer and cider (ranging from 284 ml to 568 ml), the absence of one answer category in the question about spirits consumption, and the lack of a definition of 'a drink' in the binge-drinking question.
3. The HBSC (Ireland) survey is conducted every four years by a research team at the Health Promotion Research Centre at the National University of Ireland, Galway, in collaboration with the WHO Regional Office for Europe (see
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Issue Title
Issue 30, Summer 2009
Page Range
pp. 13-16
Health Research Board
Issue 30, Summer 2009
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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