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45% of the total 4,084 cases where cocaine was the most common problem drug were new cases. Alamy Stock Photo
cocaine addiction

Cocaine overtakes opiates to become Ireland's 'most common' problem drug

Cocaine was reported over 4,000 times as the most common problem drug in treatment cases in 2022.

COCAINE HAS BEEN identified as Ireland’s most common problem drug among those seeking treatment, a new report from the Health Research Board (HRB) has found.

The 2022 Drug Treatment Demand report found a 259% increase in the number cases in the last seven years, in which a person was treated for drug-related issues and where cocaine was the main problem drug they used.

Last year, there were 12,009 cases of addiction treatment. Cocaine was reported as the most common problem drug in more than 4,000 of these cases, and was followed by opioids (mainly heroin), then cannabis and benzodiazepines.

In total, 45% of the 4,084 cases involving cocaine were new cases, in which the person receiving treatment never presented with a cocaine addiction before.

  • Read more here on how to support a major Noteworthy project to investigate why people are waiting up to two years for a drug detox bed.

In 1,068 of the new cases, the patient had left education before the age of 16; the majority of those people were also unemployed. 

The median age of all new cases who sought treatment was 32 years old. The majority of new cases (1,056) were female.

Almost 40% of all individuals treated in 2022 had never sought addiction treatment before and the majority of cases were treated in outpatient facilities.

The 12,009 cases relate to treatment episodes rather than to individuals – meaning that the same person could be counted more than once in the same calendar year if they had more than one treatment episode in that year.

Types of cocaine

Powdered cocaine, which is usually snorted through the nose, was the most common form of the drug used. An overwhelming 97.5% of cases reported they had sniffed or snorted powdered cocaine.

The majority of the users were men and four in ten users were employed. Very few cases (1.4%) of powdered cocaine use were under the age of 17.
44.3% of all treatment cases for powdered cocaine addiction resided in Co Dublin, followed by Cork at 8%, Limerick at 5% and Wicklow a just over 4%.

Half of all cases who sought treatment for their addiction to powdered cocaine were 30-years-old or younger.

Crack cocaine, which is most frequently smoked or injected, was less common as only 898 cases were recorded with ‘crack’ as the main problem.

The large majority (over 88%) of treatment cases resided in Dublin, followed by Kildare, Meath and Limerick. Half of all cases who sought treatment for ‘crack’ were 39-years-old or younger.

In February, The Journal reported that crack cocaine had “hit Limerick city like snow” and spoke to drug-users who used the drug and needed treatment for their addiction problems.

Research from Limerick found that people are taking many other drugs as a comedown from taking crack cocaine.

“A lot of people who wouldn’t have used heroin are starting to use heroin now as a comedown from crack,” one user said.

Polydrug use

Treatment for cocaine use was most prevalent in the 20-34 age group. Cocaine was also the most common “polydrug” – a drug that someone with an addiction will use with another drug frequently.

57% of cases used more than one drug with cocaine and alcohol, cocaine and cannabis, and opioids and cocaine being the three most common pairings of drugs.

The HRB report says: “Cocaine as an additional problem increased substantially over the period from 25.9% of cases with polydrug use in 2016 to 36.1% in 2022.”

The report, penned by researchers Derek O’Neill, Suzi Lyons and Anne Marie Carew aimed to collect data that would show how to support and develop treatment facilities around the country.

HRB Chief Executive Dr Mairéad O’Driscoll said: “Our latest data provides insights into the patterns observed in drug treatment.

“Like last year, we are seeing an increase in cocaine as a problem drug. This year, it has surpassed opioids.

“The data we have collated will support practices in relation to treatment as well as underpinning action on preventative measures.”

Carew said there has been a “considerable” rise in treatment of cocaine addiction in recent years.

“This is the result of the rise in use of cocaine as well as an increase in the provision of specific services to treat cocaine use,” Carew added.

Additional reporting from Eoghan Dalton

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