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Press Release

Press release

Education, employment and accommodation needed to help address problem drug use

6 November 2007

Homelessness and unemployment among problem drug users could eventually undermine the benefits of the treatment they receive, according to a new report published today by the Health Research Board (HRB).

Homelessness and unemployment among problem drug users could eventually undermine the benefits of the treatment they receive, according to a new report published today by the Health Research Board (HRB).

Measures to reduce homelessness, improve employment skills and increase education levels among problem drug users must be implemented to increase their chances of rehabilitation and social reintegration according to Martin Keane, Social Researcher at the HRB. He has monitored the availability and accessibility of education, accommodation and employment support among drug users and reviewed how other countries have responded to what has become a ?social exclusion? issue for problem drug users.

Employment and education

?If we look at the drug users who presented for treatment in 2003, we find that only 20% were employed, while 61% were unemployed. When we compare this to the general population we find the opposite; 65% are employed and almost 5% are unemployed. In 2003, a total of 20% of people treated for problem drug use in this year also left school before the age of 15, which would indicate that many do not have a formal educational qualification. This data indicates, once again, that the link between problem drug use and socio-economic disadvantage remains evident', says Mr Keane.

Many problem drug users have said employment is an important part of their recovery. Research supports this claim and shows that drug users who are employed don?t use their main drug as often and report better treatment outcomes than their unemployed counterparts. ?Drug rehabilitation services need to address the personal and structural barriers that prevent the majority of recovering drug users from entering the labour market',says Mr Keane. ?We are starting to see some success in this area in Ireland. For example, a small number of vocational rehabilitation interventions are seeing participants make progress by improving their literacy or achieving accredited training certificates. In some cases, participants have progressed to work placements and even into paid employment'.


In 2003, almost 7% of drug users entering treatment were homeless. Family breakdown, release from prison and leaving State care can expose individuals and families to homelessness and drug use. ?Evidence indicates that being homeless leads to an increase in drug use, and this often progresses to patterns of chaotic use and poor physical and mental health', explains Mr Keane. ?It is essential that this downward spiral is tackled effectively; otherwise the benefits of the treatment that these people receive will be quickly eroded', he says.

Irish and international research highlights the urgent need for an inter-agency approach to tackle the accommodation needs of drug users. This report points to a success story in the USA where homelessness was tackled through an integrated community-wide approach, including the provision of low demand permanent supported housing.

?Rehabilitation has been introduced as a fifth ?pillar? in the National Drugs Strategy', says Mr Keane. ?In June 2007 the Working Group addressing the rehabilitation needs of drug users identified the structural and operational arrangements required to respond to homelessness, education needs and poor employment skills among current, stabilised and former users. It is hoped that when these plans are put in place, in order to address social exclusion, they will help prevent people from relapsing into drug use and improve their chances to participate in mainstream life', he concluded.

For a copy of the report, Overview 5 Social reintegration as a response to drug use in Ireland, please see link below.

For more information contact:
Gillian Markey, Communications Manager
Health Research Board
m 00353 87 2288514
t 00353 1 2345103
e gmarkey(at)

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