Close to 11,000 seizures of illicit and prescribed drugs were made by prison authorities on both sides of the Border over the past seven years, new figures reveal.
A total of 8,524 drug seizures were made in the Republic's 14 prisons between 2010 and July 2017, while 2,266 drug seizures were made between 2010 and June 2016 in Northern Ireland's four prisons. Mountjoy in Dublin and Maghaberry in Co Antrim had the highest number of seizures.
The data, which was obtained by Belfast-based investigative outlet, The Detail, also shows that in Northern Ireland's jails prescription drugs are more likely to be misused by prisoners than illicit class A drugs such as heroin or cocaine.
Statistics obtained under Freedom of Information legislation in Northern Ireland found that almost 19,000 prescription and unknown tablets were seized in prisons between 2010 and 2014. By contrast, less than 200 grams of cocaine and heroin powder and less than two kilograms of cannabis were seized over the same period.
A similar examination of drug use in the Republic's jails proved impossible after it emerged that the Irish Prison Service is failing to keep comprehensive records on the type of drugs seized despite a policy commitment in 2006 to do so.
The analysis also found that drug seizures more than halved in prisons in the South but rose in Northern prisons.
In the Republic drugs have played a role in the death of 19 prisoners, either in custody or while on temporary release, since 2012; in Northern Ireland drugs have been implicated in the death of at least 10 prisoners, either in custody or post-release, since 2014.
Earlier this year Irish Prison Service director general Michael Donnellan acknowledged the "massive problem" that drugs presented when he told a Dáil committee in February that 70 per cent of prisoners have addiction issues.
An internal briefing document dated in February, which did contain some information about a changing pattern of drug use, stated: “There appears to be a decrease in the use of traditional drugs, such as, heroin, opiates etc, and an increasing use of newer drugs of abuse, including novel psychoactive substances.”
An independent evaluation of prison addiction services published in December 2016 identified a need for services for female prisoners, for treatment options for new drugs such as novel psychoactive substances, for services for prisoners with addiction and mental health issues, and for drug-free landings.
A spokesperson for the Irish Prison Service said: “This year the Irish Prison Service has restored its nursing complement to pre-2011 levels, which includes an enhanced addiction service capacity.”