Treatment for cocaine trebles in just six years

By Cormac O'Keeffe
Security Correspondent

Treatment for cocaine has trebled in the last six years, with “worrying” increases in crack cocaine cases.

While those seeking treatment for cocaine are generally in paid employment and most likely to use alcohol as an additional drug, those mixing crack cocaine and heroin are more likely to be unemployed and homeless.

The Health Research Board (HRB) said the number of cases involving homeless people has doubled between 2013 and 2019, with the number of people under the age of 18 in treatment rising in the last year.

The HRB’s National Drug Treatment Reporting System highlights a continuing surge in cocaine treatment over the last six years:

  • 2,560 cases were treated for problem cocaine use in 2019, more than three times the number in 2013 (708 cases) and up from 2,254 in 2018;
  • The proportion of cocaine cases increased from 7.9% in 2013 to 24% in 2019;
  • Cocaine was the second most common drug reported in 2019, having ranked third since 2015;
  • The increase was even greater for new cases of cocaine use, rising four-fold, from 320 in 2013 to 1,258 in 2019.

The median age of cocaine treatment cases was 30 in 2019 (29 in 2013), but those under 18 rose from 11 to 40.

The proportion of female cocaine cases increased from 17% in 2013 to 20% in 2019, while the proportion in paid employment rose from 18% in 2013 to 35% in 2018, decreasing to 31% in 2019.

The proportion of cocaine cases with polydrug use fell from 77% in 2013 to 58% in 2019. In 2019, the most common additional drugs were alcohol (57%) and cannabis (48%).

In relation to crack cocaine, it accounted for 14% of all cocaine cases in 2019, compared to 11% in 2018.

Dr Mairead O’ Driscoll, Interim HRB Chief Executive said: “The figures published today illustrate the level of cocaine use in Irish society. The consistent rise in demand for cocaine treatment, coupled with an increase in cases in paid employment and a decrease in proportion of cases mixing drugs reflects clear changes in patterns of drug use.” 

Dr Anne Marie Carew, HRB research officer said: “In general, those seeking treatment for cocaine are male, 30 years of age, in paid employment and most likely to use alcohol as an additional drug. However, a rise in reporting of crack cocaine is a worrying trend where cases with chronic problem drug use, mix crack cocaine with opioids. These cases are more likely to be unemployed and homeless.” 

The report said opioids, mainly heroin, were the most common main drug reported, accounting for 39% of all cases, down from 51% in 2013.

Cannabis was the third most common main drug – 23% in 2019 (29% in 2013).

Benzodiazepines (tranquillisers) was the fourth most common main drug, accounting for around 10% of cases every year.

The total number of treated cases increased from 9,006 in 2013 to 10,664 in 2019.

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