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Alcohol as big a crime factor as other drugs

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ACCORDING to the Probation Services, alcohol is just as significant an issue as drugs, when it comes to those engaged in offending behaviour.

David Kenny, regional manager, South West Probation Service, said alcohol, together with benzos, cannabis, unprescribed medication, pockets of opioid use, and heroin are the types of substances most commonly used among those who become involved in criminal activity.

Among offenders seen by the Probation Services in Clare, they have identified alcohol, cannabis, and benzos as the types of substances that “are coming up the whole time”, and this is because “they are the most accessible”.

Leah McGuire, of the Probation Service in Clare, said cocaine does present itself also, but while it is often thought cocaine is a drug for those with money, at the end of the day it comes down to what’s most accessible at any given time. That, she said, “comes in waves and troughs, and it comes down to what’s a good price and you’ll hear there might be a shortage of this drug. It is a market economy and market-led,” she said.

David explained that the drugs they see most are those associated with offending behaviour, and that the nature of the offending is linked with the type of substance abuse. For instance, he said those abusing alcohol will generally be seen committing offences under the Public Order Act, and offences against the person, whereas drug users will often offend by virtue of their drug use, or commit crimes associated with funding their drug abuse, such as thefts, burglaries or selling drugs.

He added that the European Monitoring Centre For Drugs report, released in June, showed Ireland had the second highest rate of opioid use per head of population. It also had seen an increased use of cannabis, particularly among people aged 15 to 34. It also registered as the second highest in Europe for MDMA (ecstasy) use, and again there was a high risk of opioid use in relation to the number of overdoses.

He said research conducted nationally by the Probation Service in 2011-12, currently being updated, showed 89% of adult offenders had misused drugs or alcohol. This broke down to 27% drugs only; 20% alcohol only; and 42% both substances, while 21% were misusing two or more substances. Alcohol was the most common substance misused by offenders in the South-West.

It was also found that among offenders aged under 20, 87% had misused alcohol or drugs, with 63% abusing both. Among young people, alcohol was the substance most often misused on a weekly basis, and 14 was found to be the median age these offenders began to misuse substances.

The research also showed that, of those who had misused a substance, 39% reported that parents also had a history of substance misuse. “Alcohol is a significant issue, and it is one of the main issues we have tied in with offending behaviour. That and benzos, unprescribed medication, and then we have pockets of opioid use, heroin. Benzos are probably the most common in relation to drug use,” he said.

David believes it is likely that how our society views alcohol that is contributing to this.

The Probation Service is carrying out further research specific to substance misuse among service users in order to inform practice and future development of interventions. It believes the misuse of substances – particularly alcohol or illegal drugs – is harmful to the individual themselves, can lead to criminal activity and can cause victimisation in the community,particularly in those areas experiencing
socio-economic deprivation.

The Probation Service also provides funding to a range of services whose primary
focus is on substance misuse treatment, along with funding to other community projects who provide a secondary supportive role, including education.

More information regarding the work of the Probation Service can be accessed at or by contacting the National Drug Helpline on 1800 459 459.

Carol Byrne

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