The Department of Health today published “Statistics from the Northern Ireland Substance Misuse Database: 2020/21 (Experimental Statistics)” report and accompanying statistical tables.
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 2021.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions resulted in some disruption to services during 2020/21. This should be taken into consideration when making comparisons with previous years.
- In Northern Ireland in 2020/21, a total of 2,920 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 (36.0%, 1,052); a similar proportion presented indicating problem alcohol use only (35.9%, 1,047); 28.1% of clients presented to services indicating both drug and alcohol misuse (821 clients).
- The majority of clients were male. Just over a quarter of clients presenting to treatment for either drugs only, or for drugs & alcohol, were female (26.7% & 25.8% respectively). However, more than two-fifths of clients presenting to treatment for problem alcohol use only were female (44.9%).
- Around two-fifths of clients presenting to treatment were aged 26-39 years for both drug misuse only (40.7%), and for drug & alcohol misuse (39.4%); however clients accessing services for misuse of alcohol only tended to be in older age-groups with around two-thirds (67.5%) being 40 years and over.
- Cannabis was the most commonly used drug with almost two-thirds of clients who use drugs reporting taking it (61.0%), this was followed by Cocaine (42.4%); Benzodiazepines (23.4%) and Pregabalin (15.7%).
- Around one in ten drug use clients reported ever having injected (11.4%); of those who had injected, around a quarter (27.2%) reported having shared injecting equipment at some time.
- Of those clients presenting to services for drug misuse, three-fifths indicated daily use (59.9%); of those clients attending for problem alcohol use, two-fifths (41.8%) indicated daily consumption of alcohol.
Notes to editors:
- The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions resulted in some disruption to services during 2020/21. This should be taken into consideration when making comparisons with previous years. Additionally, it should be noted that due to changes in service delivery following Covid-19 restrictions, it was not possible to obtain the majority of Substance Misuse Database records for those accessing treatment within HM Prison services. For this reason, records for those accessing drug and alcohol services within HM Prisons have not been included in this report, and similarly, they have not been included in the statistics for previous years to allow for appropriate comparisons. Hence, the figures for previous years in the accompanying statistical tables will not match those previously published. It is hoped that we will be in a position to resume including information on people presenting for treatment in prison in future reports.
- 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 2021. This is the third bulletin reporting on information collected through the Northern Ireland Substance Misuse Database (SMD), the previous reports covered the 2019/20 and 2016/17 time periods. 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.
- 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 2020/21 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 email@example.com.
- 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.
- 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 7 clients in 2020/21.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- This publication is available online at:
- 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 E-mail: PHIRB@health-ni.gov.uk
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