Statistics from the Northern Ireland Substance Misuse Database: 2019/20

Date published: 29 October 2020

The Department of Health today published “Statistics from the Northern Ireland Substance Misuse Database: 2019/20 (Experimental Statistics)” report and accompanying statistical tables.

substance misuse database

The report summarises information on people presenting to services with problem drug and/ or alcohol misuse and relates to the 12-month period ending 31 March 2020.

Key Findings

  • In Northern Ireland in 2019/20, a total of 4,264 clients were recorded on the Substance Misuse Database as having presented to services for problem substance misuse. 
  • More than one-third of clients presented to services indicating problem drug use only (35.8%, 1,525); just under one-third presented indicating problem alcohol use only (32.8%, 1,397); 31.5% of clients presented to services indicating both drug and alcohol misuse (1,342 clients).
  • The majority of clients were male, with only around a fifth of clients presenting to treatment for either drugs only, or for drugs & alcohol, being female (23.2% & 17.7% respectively). However, for those clients presenting to treatment for problem alcohol use only, two-fifths were female (41.9%).
  • The most common age group for clients presenting to treatment was 26-39 years for both drug misuse only clients (39.7%), and for drug & alcohol misuse clients (44.3%); however clients accessing services for misuse of alcohol only tended to be in older age-groups with 71.5% being 40 years and over.
  • Cannabis was the most commonly used drug with almost two-thirds of clients who use drugs reporting taking it (65.2%), this was followed by Cocaine (45.8%); Benzodiazepines (31.4%); Pregabalin (21.8%) and Ecstasy (16.2%).
  • More than one in ten drug use clients reported ever having injected (13.9%); of those who had injected, more than a quarter (26.9%) reported having shared injecting equipment at some time.
  • Of those clients presenting to services for drug misuse, two-thirds indicated daily use (67.9%); of those clients attending for problem alcohol use, almost half (45.0%) indicated daily consumption of alcohol.

Notes to editors: 

  1. This bulletin summarises information on people presenting to services with problem drug and/ or alcohol misuse and relates to the 12-month period ending 31 March 2020. This is the second bulletin reporting on information collected through the Northern Ireland Substance Misuse Database (SMD), the previous report covered the 2016/17 time period. Statistics covering 2017/18 and 2018/19 were not published due to concerns that information returns received by the Department of Health were not sufficiently comprehensive and that coverage was not at a level suitable for publication.
  2. During this time period the Department has continued to liaise with service providers to improve the quality and coverage of the information. This process is still ongoing and the release of 2019/20 information as Experimental Statistics allows users and stakeholders to be involved in the development of this statistical series. Feedback is welcome and will be utilised to improve the quality and value of the statistics in line with user requirements; any comments should be sent to
  3. The Substance Misuse Database is an online data collection system that captures information on people presenting to services for treatment with problem drug and/or alcohol use. Both statutory and non-statutory organisations contribute to the database on a voluntary basis.
  4. An entry in the Substance Misuse Database is completed for every client who presents at a service with a drug and / or alcohol related problem for treatment.  Only those clients attending for the very first time or those who have not attended for treatment within the previous six months are recorded on the SMD.  This means that a small number of clients may be recorded twice on the SMD within one year.  This amounted to 11 clients in 2019/20.
  5. Analysis by Health and Social Care Trust is based on the number of clients presenting for a service located in that Trust area. Services available across Trusts vary and this may be reflected in the drugs misused.
  6. Prior to publication, an exercise was carried out to determine if Covid-19 novel coronavirus impacted on data collection. The results indicated a minor reduction to the number of cases as might have been expected for March 2020, however, it was impossible to determine if this was attributable to reduced service attendance; variation in the type of attendance such as would not allow reporting; or natural fluctuation.
  7. Due to the ongoing development work on these statistics, care should be taken when making comparisons between this and previous statistical releases, and when considering the implications of the data presented in an historical context.
  8. It should be noted that findings in this report may differ from those presented in other reports due to the discretionary engagement of individual services in SMD collection.
  9. This publication is available on the Department's website.
  10. Additional information is available from:

    Public Health Information and Research Branch
    Information Analysis Directorate
    Department of Health
    Annex 2, Castle Buildings
    Belfast BT4 3SQ

    Telephone: 028 9052 2607
  11. For media queries please contact DoH Press Office by email:
  12. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt.
  13. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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