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Connolly, Johnny (2011) Drugs and crime data. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 39, Autumn 2011, pp. 21-23.

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This article looks at trends in reported drug offences and drug seizures for various periods between 2003 and 2010. It should be noted that drug offence and seizure data are primarily a reflection of law enforcement activity. Consequently, they are affected in any given period by such factors as law enforcement resources, strategies and priorities, and by the vulnerability of drug users and drug traffickers to law enforcement activities. Having said that, drug seizures are seen as indirect indicators of the supply and availability of drugs. 

Figures 1 and 2 show trends in proceedings for drug offences from 2004 to 2009. As can be seen from Figure 1, criminal proceedings for the possession of drugs for personal use (simple possession) decreased in 2009 for the first time since 2004. Proceedings for drug supply also decreased marginally, from 2,964 in 2008 to 2,721 in 2009, when they returned to the 2007 level. Possession offences accounted for 74.5% of total drug offences in 2009.
 Figure 2 shows trends in legal proceedings for a selection of other drug offences between 2004 and 2009.

The offence of obstructing the lawful exercise of a power conferred by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 (s.21) continues to account for a large majority of offences each year. Obstruction offences often involve an alleged offender resisting a drug search or an arrest or attempting to dispose of drugs to evade detection. Following a decline in 2008, proceedings for such offences increased in 2009, as they did for cultivation offences and forged prescription offences. Importation offences decreased marginally in 2009. Proceedings for the cultivation or manufacture of drugs have continued to increase, rising from 29 in 2005 to 163 in 2009. It is unclear whether this increase reflects a genuine growth in the commission of such offences or a sustained concentration of law enforcement on detecting them.

Drug offence data can assist in understanding aspects of the operation of the illicit drug market in Ireland.1 Data on drug offence prosecutions by Garda division are a possible indicator of national drug distribution patterns. While these data primarily reflect law enforcement activities and the relative ease of detection of different drugs, when compared with other sources such as drug treatment data, for example, they can show us trends in market developments throughout the State. Such data can also indicate trafficking patterns by showing whether there is a concentration of prosecutions along specific routes. Figures 3 and 4 show trends in relevant legal proceedings for possession of drugs by Garda region. It should be noted that possession includes possession for personal use and possession for the purpose of supply. It is not possible to distinguish these two offences in the data reported by Garda region. However, as shown in Figure 1 above, it is generally the case that in 70-75% of all possession cases the drugs are deemed to be for personal use.

It can be seen from Figures 3 and 4 that prosecutions for possession decreased in all but two Garda regions (the Northern and the South Eastern) in 2009, after a steady increase since 2006.

The Dublin Metropolitan Region still accounts for the majority of prosecutions for possession in the state. However, the proportion of prosecutions taking place outside the capital has increased significantly, from 43.6% in 2003 to 63.3% in 2009. These data show that the drug phenomenon is now more widely distributed throughout the state than previously.

 Drug driving offences

Figure 5 shows the trend in prosecutions for driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) between 2005 and 2009, when the number rose from 70 to 695, an increase of more than 900%. It is unclear why this increase has occurred. It could be due either to an increase in the incidence of DUID or, the more likely possibility, an increase in targeted police activity in this area.

The new programme for government, Government for National Recovery 2011–2016, contains a number of actions related to criminal justice and drugs policy.2 The following is included as an action:
We will introduce roadside drug testing programmes to combat the problem of driving under the influence of drugs.
The development of reliable roadside testing procedure has been a challenging issue for many countries. At present the Garda Síochána, the Department of Transport and the Medical Bureau of Road Safety are collaborating in the development of a scheme to introduce US-style roadside testing of suspected drug drivers to accompany roadside alcohol tests.
Drug seizures
Cannabis seizures account for the largest proportion of all drugs seized. Figure 6 shows trends in cannabis-related seizures and total seizures between 2003 and 2010. The decrease and levelling out in total seizures between 2008 and 2010 can partly be explained by the parallel trend in cannabis seizures during the same period. It is not clear if the reduction in cannabis-related seizures reflects a decline in cannabis use or a reduction in law enforcement activity targeted at the cannabis market. However, it should be noted that drug offence prosecutions reported above, most of which are cannabis-related, also decreased slightly in 2009, with figures for 2010 not currently available.

The reduction in the total number of reported seizures in 2009 and its levelling off in 2010 may also be explained by a reduction in the number of seizures of other drugs since 2008. Figure 7 shows trends in seizures for a selection of drugs, excluding cannabis, between 2003 and 2010. There has been a significant decline in seizures of cocaine, heroin and ecstasy-type substances since 2007. It appears that the significant reduction in total drug seizures reported in 2009 can be explained primarily as the result of a reduction in seizures of cannabis and cocaine. However, in 2010 we have seen the continued decline in heroin seizures. It is unclear whether this reflects a decline in heroin use or a change in law enforcement activities or some other factor.

1. Connolly J (2005) The illicit drug market in Ireland. HRB Overview Series 2. Dublin: Health Research Board. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/6018

2. Fine Gael and the Labour Party (2011) Towards recovery: programme for a national government 2011–2016. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/14795

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