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NACDA release study on drug use and access to drug treatment/support services within Irish prisons.

10th April 2014

The National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA) published a new study on drug use in Irish prisons today.  “The prevalence of drug use, including intravenous drug use and blood-borne viruses among the Irish Prisoner Population” was carried out by Dr Anne Drummond and Dr Mary Codd of UCD and was funded by the NACDA and the Irish Prison Service (IPS).

The most recent study into drug use and the prevalence of blood born viruses in Irish prisons was completed over a decade ago, in 1999. In order to encourage rehabilitation against drug addiction and crime, both during the prison sentence and upon release, adequate up-to-date data on drug use and access to treatment is needed to inform social service planning and policy.

The objectives of the study included finding the patterns and extent of consumption of different types of drugs within the prisoner population; to uncover the methods of drug use, including intravenous drug-use; to estimate the prevalence of blood-born viruses and the associated behavioral risks; and to measure the uptake, availability and accessibility of drug treatment programs and support structures and harm reduction interventions in prisons. 

The data was divided into lifetime, last year and last month drug use and recorded with a combination of a self-completion questionnaire and oral fluid samples. The results found that although the occurrence of drug use among prisoners is far greater than that of the general population, the results were broadly consistent with that of international prisoner populations.

The report showed some improvements have taken place in drug treatment provision and access to rehabilitative support services however one finding showed 43% of inmates who had used heroin, first started taking it in prison. 

  • It was found that prisoners who need services are willing to use them if they are made available.
  • 70% of prisoners who said they needed methadone said they received it
  • However only 20% received detox from  benzodiazepines when they needed it
  • 40% who needed access to a drug-free wing had access to one
  • Only 30% who needed drug treatment actually received it
  • Women in prison are significantly more likely to suffer from drug addiction, especially in relation to intravenous drug use.

The Chair of NACDA, Professor Catherine Comiskey, said, "The prison population is a high risk group with a disproportionate number of people with a history of using drugs. In prison it is hoped that they will have an opportunity to effect a positive change in their lives by availing of treatment services”

The Executive Director of IPRT, Deidre Malone The situation can be described as ‘improved’ but this does not mean it is now satisfactory. Seven in ten prisoners who need drug treatment did not receive it, and there are only nine detox beds available across the entire prison estate for a prison population of 4,000.

The report can be read in full here.

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