Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, Minister of State, Frank Feighan and Director of the Probation Service Mark Wilson welcome the publication of Research Report on Drugs & Alcohol Misuse

11 November 2021

At a virtual event this morning, the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD, launched ‘Informing & Supporting Change: Drug and Alcohol Misuse among People on Probation Supervision in Ireland’, authored by Dr. Louise Rooney, University College Dublin.

The findings of this study highlight that 81% of the sample (comprised of both adult and young persons on supervision) were reported to have a history of alcohol or drug misuse. Combined Drug and Alcohol Misuse (50%) was the most frequent type of misuse, followed by drug misuse only (17%), alcohol misuse only (14%),

Building on previous research, the study aimed to identify substance misuse prevalence among persons on probation supervision, examine the relationship between substance misuse behaviour and offending, and explore the engagement of persons supervised and the Probation Service response.

In launching the report, Minister McEntee thanked Dr Rooney for producing such an excellent piece of research which provides fresh knowledge and insights that will benefit some of the most vulnerable members of our society. In commencing her address, the Minister said,

“I know how devastating alcohol and substance misuse can be on individuals, families and communities across our country and I want emphasise that tackling this issue remains a priority for me and for this Government.”

The Minister continued,

“In relation to substance misuse and offending behaviour, we know there is a well-documented relationship between the two. We also know that a history of substance misuse has been clearly identified as a strong predictor for reoffending and that it is highlighted as one of the foremost risk factors for criminal recidivism.

It is for this reason that high quality research, like this, is critical to ensuring we better understand the issues so we can develop insights and make stronger evidence based policies and associated interventions.”

During her address, Minister McEntee emphasised that the Government is firmly committed to addressing the issue of drugs & alcohol misuse through its responsibilities and targeted actions under the ‘National Drugs Strategy, Reducing Harm, and Supporting Recovery: a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025’.

The Minister welcomed the continued support of Minister of State, Frank Feighan, TD, the Department of Health, the HSE and other agencies in driving the implementation of this strategy. Minister McEntee said,

“It is important to emphasise that the ongoing and close collaboration with our partners in the HSE, the Department of Health and indeed other relevant Government Departments is, and will continue to be, critical to ensuring the State provides effective and integrated interventions. Interventions that are person-centric and focused on helping people to rebuild their lives. This will in turn reduce crime and make our communities safer for all.”

Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Public Health, Well Being and the National Drugs Strategy also participated in the launch of the virtual launch event.

I very much welcome the publication of this research whose findings resonate strongly with the objective of the National Drug Strategy to promote a public health approach to drug use.

People who use drugs within the criminal justice system are at high risk of harm and are vulnerable to drug overdose and premature death. It is vital that we put in place services that meet their health and social needs. In line with the Slaintecare approach and the EU Drugs Strategy, integrated care pathways are required to deliver the best health outcomes for these socially excluded people.”

The Minister continued,

“The report also highlights to need to promote alternatives to coercive sanctions for people who commit drug-related offences. It is wasteful of resources and counter-productive if we only seek to punish people who commit drug crimes. That is why the National Drugs Strategy is developing new initiatives such as the as the Health Diversion Programme which will connect participants with health services and will provide a pathway to treatment and recovery where there is problematic drug use. It will also allow participants to avoid a criminal conviction, which can have far-reaching consequences for people, particularly younger people.

It is also important that there are more services available in the community for people who use drugs and in contact with the criminal justice system. In Budget 2022, I secured an additional €6m for new measures to expand the provision of drug and alcohol services, with a particular focus on high-risk drug users”.

Commenting on the report, Director of the Probation Service, Mark Wilson, said,

“The Probation Service has a long history of assisting people on probation supervision in identifying, supporting and responding effectively to substance misuse issues.

Dr Rooney’s report builds on previous research in this area and provides new evidence that will inform and help us develop best practice for working with people with drug and alcohol misuse issues and delivering integrated interventions with addiction services in the community.”

The Director concluded,

In response to this research, the Probation Service will develop a detailed work plan to address the needs and key recommendations outlined in the study. This work supports commitments within our recently published Strategy Statement 2021-203 which prioritises the promotion of inclusion and working to remove barriers that may prevent reintegration, rehabilitation and access to opportunities for our clients, allowing for a full positive participation in society.

Other speakers at the event include Dr Louise Rooney, UCD and Dr Eamon Keenan, National Clinical Lead, Addiction Services, HSE.

The Report has been published and can be located here: Informing & Supporting Change: Drug and Alcohol Misuse among People on Probation Supervision in Ireland.