‘Reach out to youth’ as drug use spikes

Drugs and communities minister Catherine Byrne has urged society to “build up relationships” with young people after a survey revealed sharp increases in drug use, particularly among young men.

The State’s drug survey shows a jump in the use of cannabis and ecstasy, as well as licit and illicit usage of pharmacy-type opiates.

The country’s top drug advisor, Catherine Comiskey said she was surprised by the increases in cannabis and ecstasy use and “most disappointed” by high usage among young men.

Community worker Gary Broderick said it was difficult to discuss the impact of cannabis because it had become “so normalised”.

The Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland report, conducted by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA), found:

  • Recent (last year) use of cannabis rose from 6% in 2011 to almost 8% in 2015, while recent use of ecstasy rose four-fold (0.5% to 2%);
  • For young people aged 15-34, recent use of cannabis rose from 10% to 14% and from 0.9% to 4% for ecstasy;
  • Current (last month) use of cannabis rose from 3% to 5%, while current ecstasy use rose 10-fold (0.1% to 1%);
  • For young people aged 15-34, current use of cannabis rose from 4.5% to 8% and from 0.1% to 2% for ecstasy.

‘Reach out to youth’ as drug use spikes

However, the figures are much higher for young men — with recent use of cannabis at 21.5% for 15- to 24-year-old men, compared to 11% of women of the same age. The figures for ecstasy use were 10% versus 4% and, for cocaine use , 5.5% versus 1%.

Prof Comiskey, NACDA chair, said the “take-home message” was the increases in cannabis and ecstasy use and that young men continued to be at particular risk.

“What disappointed me most was still the young men,” she said, adding it was “disheartening”.

Ms Byrne said she was “really taken aback” by the high rate of drugs use among young people. She said despite “all the preventions” in education and youth centres so many young people were still taking illegal substances.

She said a major task of the forthcoming National Drugs Strategy was to help young people stay away from drugs.

While a lot of money was going into communities, she said “a vast amount” more could be done. “We need to focus on communities,” she said. “How can we build up relationships with young people?”

She said young people needed to be “drawn into” local facilities with the help of outreach workers.

Gary Broderick, community representative on the NACDA, said cannabis is “a multiple of the strength” it was in the past. “What we see on the ground is the impact of cannabis and how difficult it is to discuss that because cannabis is so normalised.”

He said the mental health impact for young people was significant and could cause huge stress for families if a debt is built up.

The EU drugs agency has was warned of the increased potency of cannabis and a “dramatic increase” in the potency of ecstasy.

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