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Irish Examiner: Prison drug use to be studied

2nd June 2010

This story, written by Noel Baker, appeared in the print and online version of the Irish Examiner.

A study on the level of drug use in prisons and the possible need for needle exchanges in jails will begin this autumn under the terms of a tender issued this week.

The National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) and the Irish Prison Service are to fund the project, where saliva samples will be taken from prisoners and anonymous questionnaires will be filled in to indicate just how many inmates are using drugs.

Those behind the study hope to begin work in October, with results to be finalised by next summer.

The contract for the research project was put out to tender this week and is worth a six figure sum.

Alan Gaffney of the NACD said applicants should register their interest by July 12, with a decision on the award of the contract likely in September.

A similar study into the prevalence of Hepatitis A, Hepatitis C and HIV among the prison population was carried out in 1999. And the results from this study are likely to feed into the next National Substance Misuse Strategy.

The NACD confirmed the Dóchas Centre for women and St Patrick’s Institute for Young Offenders will also be included in the study.

There have been calls for a needle exchange programme in prisons for a number of years, with such groups as Merchants Quay and the Irish Penal Reform Trust raising the issue. Last year, the Irish Needle Exchange Forum in Killarney heard successful needle exchange programmes have been running in a number of countries, including Switzerland, Germany and Romania.

According to the tender issued this week, among the objectives of the study will be to describe the nature of consumption for different drugs among the prisoner population when in the community and when in prison, to describe methods of drug use and to identify associated risk behaviours.

Mr Gaffney said the exact method of collating the data would be decided upon by the researchers but saliva samples were likely.

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