DUHEI report shows over half of third-level students have used illicit drugs in the last year

The report found that cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy are the most commonly used substances among students aged 18-21

A new major survey from the Drugs Use in Higher Education Institution (DUHEI) shows over half of third-level students have used illicit drugs in the last year, with one-third reporting use in the last year and one-fifth reporting use in the last month.

The report, which conducted surveys with 11500 students aged 18-21, found that cannabis remains the most commonly used drug at consumption rates of 52%. The other most popular drugs include cocaine (25%), ecstasy (23%), ketamine (16%), mushrooms (15%), amphetamines (9%), and New Psychoactive Substances (8%). 

Cocaine replaced ecstasy as the second most popular drug among students. The survey found that people’s first use of cannabis ranged from 16-18, whereas for other drugs first use ranged from 19-21. 

Other key findings from the survey show that one in four males report to be currently using drugs, while one in six women report current use. 

Students guessed that 58% of their peers had used drugs in the last year and 37% in the last month, while figures show 35% and 43% respectively. 

Drug use among students is consistently rising, peaking in the last two years for college undergraduates. The DUHEI survey reports use from one in six first year students, to one in five in second year, and then to one in four in third and fourth year. 

Regarding the effects on students, most participants noted that their drug use had neither positive nor negative effects on various aspects of their lives, with the exception of the ability to socialise, for which the majority reported a positive effect. 

A slight majority of participants reported negative effects on their finances. 

Over a quarter of current users reported negative effects on their ability to think, ability to study, and their mental and physical health and well-being.

One in two drug users reported they did not want to reduce their drug use, while one in three reported they had previously tried to reduce drug use. 

Education was perceived as being the least effective intervention to reduce harm, while counselling was perceived as being the most effective intervention to reduce harm.

The survey was developed by the My Understanding of Substance-use Experiences (MyUSE) research team in University College Cork. 

Launching the report, Minister for Higher Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris emphasised the importance of the data collected: “It helps understand the prevalence of drug use and the range of drugs being used by our students as well as detailing the impacts and effects, including harms caused by drug use in our student population.”

Following their findings, the DUHEI recommended that third level institutions should embed actions on drugs and alcohol within the new Healthy Campus Framework, as part of the Healthy Campus initiative, and develop a Framework for Response to the Use of Illicit Substances in Higher Education. 

The DUHEI also recommended that the survey should be repeated at 5-yearly intervals to monitor trends in drug use prevalence, attitudes, and behaviours amongst students in Ireland.

Somhairle Brennan, Vice President for Welfare at the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), stated that the survey “shines a light on the normalisation of drug culture within the student community and highlights the need for tailored supports specifically directed at student drug users”.

Ellen Kenny

Ellen Kenny is the current Features Editor of Trinity News, and a Senior Fresh student of Politics, Philosophy, and Sociology.