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Trends in addiction treatment in Irish prisons using national surveillance data, 2009–2014

Aoife Cannon (National Health Information Systems, Health Research Board, Dublin, Ireland)
Fiona Nally (Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, Dublin, Ireland)
Anne Collins (Irish Prison Service, Midlands Prison, Portlaoise, Ireland)
Ronnie Fay (Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, Dublin, Ireland)
Suzi Lyons (National Health Information Systems, Health Research Board, Dublin, Ireland)

International Journal of Prisoner Health

ISSN: 1744-9200

Article publication date: 1 March 2019

Issue publication date: 7 June 2019




Many studies show that incarcerated populations have higher rates of problem drug use than the general population. The purpose of this paper is to analyse trends in addiction treatment demand in prisons in Ireland from 2009 to 2014 using available national surveillance data in order to identify any implications for practice and policy.


National surveillance data on treatment episodes for problem drug and alcohol use from 2009 to 2014, collected annually by the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS), were analysed.


In total, 6 per cent of all treatment episodes recorded by the NDTRS between 2009 and 2014 were from prison services. The number of prison service treatment episodes increased from 964 in 2009 to 1,063 in 2014. Opiates were the main reason for treatment, followed by alcohol, cocaine and cannabis. The majority (94–98 per cent) of treatment episodes involved males (median age of 29 years) and low educational attainment, with 79.5–85.1 per cent leaving school before completion of second level. The percentage of treatment episodes with a history of ever injecting drugs increased from 20.9 per cent in 2009 to 31.0 per cent in 2014.

Practical implications

This study can help policy development and service planning in addiction treatment in prison as it provides an insight into the potential needs of incarcerated populations. It also provides a baseline from which to measure any changes in provision of treatment in prison over time.


This is the first study to analyse treatment episodes in prison using routine surveillance data in Ireland. Analysis of these data can provide useful information, not currently available elsewhere.



Declaration of conflict of interest: the authors of this paper have no conflict of interest to declare. This paper or a similar version has not been published elsewhere and it is not currently under review by another journal. No commercial relationship exists in the form of a financial support or personal financial interest. The authors disclose that there are no financial or personal relationships with other people or organisations that could inappropriately influence this work. The authors would like to acknowledge all the services that provide the annual data to the NDTRS and the NDTRS team, because without their hard work this study would not be possible.


Cannon, A., Nally, F., Collins, A., Fay, R. and Lyons, S. (2019), "Trends in addiction treatment in Irish prisons using national surveillance data, 2009–2014", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 105-113.



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