Home > Drug use among Probation Service clients in Ireland.

Millar, Sean (2022) Drug use among Probation Service clients in Ireland. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 83, Winter 2022, p. 16.

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Background and methods

Substance misuse has been highlighted as a key area of need among prisoners and a 2019 systematic review estimated that the pooled percentage of prisoners in Ireland reporting a substance use disorder was 50.9% (95% CI: 37.6–64.2%).1 A history of substance misuse has also been identified as a strong predictor for reoffending. Therefore, on release from prison, engagement with the Probation Service is a critical juncture at which assessment, intervention, and appropriate referral for substance misuse issues can take place.

A 2021 Irish study2 aimed to identify the prevalence of substance misuse among persons on probation supervision, examine the relationship between substance use behaviour and offending, and assess service user engagement. In this research, published in the Irish Probation Journal, a cross-sectional quantitative survey was carried out in 2019 among a representative sample of probation officers supervising people in the community. Participants were asked to complete an anonymised survey in respect of all clients (adults and young persons) who were subject to a probation order, supervision order, adjourned supervision, or supervised temporary release. In total, 3,096 surveys were completed by probation officers (male n=2566; female n=522; unknown n=8).


A total of 2,074 (67%) persons were reported to misuse drugs; 84% (n=1765) of the sample were reported to misuse cannabis, while high rates of misuse were also identified for benzodiazepines (55%), cocaine (48%), heroin (41%), and ecstasy (27%). A link between drug misuse and current offending was reported for almost one-half of the research sample (48%), with comparable rates of drug-related offending across male (48%) and female (47%) clients. On referral to the Probation Service, a total of 2,169 offenders reported drug misuse to their probation officers with one-third (33%) engaging with some form of medical intervention when presenting to the Probation Service. Methadone treatment (18%) was the most frequently cited medical intervention.


The authors noted that the present study identified a high prevalence of drug misuse among people on probation supervision. However, a similar figure was reported in the Probation Service’s 2011 Drugs and Alcohol Survey report,3 suggesting that substance misuse has remained relatively stable throughout the target population in the intervening eight years (2011–2019). Nevertheless, there is a need to increase service users’ access to programmes and interventions that provide information and support that is relevant and appropriate.

1  Gulati G, Keating N, O’Neill A, et al. (2019) The prevalence of major mental illness, substance misuse and homelessness in Irish prisoners: systematic review and meta-analyses. Ir J Psychol Med, 36(1): 35–45. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/29009/

2  Rooney L (2021) Substance misuse and supervision: an examination of drug and alcohol misuse among Probation Service clients. Ir Probat J, 18: 137–158. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/35227/

3  Martyn M (2012) Drug and alcohol misuse among adult offenders on probation supervision in Ireland: findings from the Drugs and Alcohol Survey 2011. Navan: Probation Service. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/21636/

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Harm reduction, Crime prevention
Issue Title
Issue 83, Winter 2022
November 2022
Page Range
p. 16
Health Research Board
Issue 83, Winter 2022

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