Drug use should be dealt with by health system – survey

Intervention should be left to health workers, not the gardaí or courts, Ana Liffey finds

A drugs seizure by gardaí in Athlone, Co Westmeath, earlier this month

A drugs seizure by gardaí in Athlone, Co Westmeath, earlier this month


Nine in 10 Irish adults are in favour of intervention from health professionals when it comes to a loved one’s drug use but not intervention from gardaí or the courts system, according to new survey.

The poll, carried out by Red C on behalf of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, interviewed a representative sample of more than 1,000 adults – aged 18 and over – last month in relation to attitudes to interventions.

More than 90 per cent said if a loved one had problems, they would like them to get help from health professionals. However, there was far less support when asked whether a loved one using drugs should be dealt with by the Garda (a third) and the courts (a quarter).

In contrast, when it came to a loved one who turned to crime to support their drug use, three in five of people surveyed said they would support their conviction and sentencing .

The poll is part of the Ana Liffey Drug Project’s campaign Safer from Harm, which is calling for drug decriminalisation and for drug users to be dealt with in the health system rather than the justice system.

Criminalising people

Those with personal experience of drug use are less likely to agree with any intervention, be it from health professionals or the Garda and courts. Those who have never used drugs are more likely to say they would want an intervention if their loved ones were using drugs/in possession of drugs .

Tony Duffin, chief executive of Ana Liffey Drug Project said the research suggested Irish people recognised that drug use “is a health issue, not a criminal justice issue”.

“We’ve been criminalising people who use drugs for over 40 years now, yet over that period the number of people using drugs has increased dramatically, as has the harm caused by drugs,” he said.

“How we currently respond does not work and needs to change ... Punishing people for nothing more than their own drug use has failed us, we must now work smarter – in a decriminalised environment drug-dealing remains in the realm of criminal justice, while drug use is treated for what it is, a health issue.”

The survey found 14 per cent of adults used drugs in the past but not any more, and almost a quarter said they had family or friends who used drugs.

Other findings

The survey found that men and those aged 25-34 were more likely to have used drugs in the past but say they did not use any more. Women and older adults were more likely to have never used drugs. Young adults (25-34) were most likely to say they had friends or family who have used drugs.

More than a fifth of unemployed people were more likely to have used drugs in the past, while retired adults were significantly most likely to say they had never used drugs (75 per cent).

There were 12,201 recorded incidents of drug possession for personal use in 2017, representing more than 72 per cent of all drug offences.

“It is important to remember that decriminalisation is not the same as legislation or regulation. In a decriminalised system, drugs remain illegal,” Mr Duffin added.

“We just change the way we deal with people who use drugs – treating them as people who require a health intervention, rather than people who deserve to be punished. What we need to do is bring our response in line with our national drugs policy, which recognises that personal drug user is a health issue, not a criminal justice one.”