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Number of cocaine treatment cases doubles in one year with economic recovery deemed as key factor

Cocaine is third on the list of most common drugs on the treatment list, but moving closer to cannabis.

Image: Shutterstock/OLEH SLEPCHENKO

THERE HAS BEEN a 50% increase in the number of cocaine treatment cases between 2017 and 2018, a new study has found. 

Latest drug treatment figures from the Health Research Board (HRB) found that while opiates remain the most common drug reported (42%), cocaine (22%) is now rivalling cannabis (23%) as the second most common drug that people receive treatment for.

A total of 2,254 cases included treatment for cocaine use in 2018, a 50% increase on 2017 figures, and more than treble the number of cases in 2012 (666 cases).

The HRB stressed that each case does not necessarily mean one person. The way the recording process works is that the same person could be counted more than once in the same calendar year if they had more than one treatment episode.

The study, which does not include alcohol in its findings, found:

  • The number of new entrants to treatment has risen from 297 in 2012 to 1,232 in 2018.
  • The median age for cases treated has increased from 29 in 2012 to 30 in 2018.
  • Men accounted for 80% over the reporting period.
  • The proportion of cases in paid employment increased from 16% in 2012 to 35% in 2018.
  • The proportion of cases that reported using more than one drug decreased over the period from 77% in 2012 to 56% in 2018.
  • The most common additional drugs reported among cocaine cases were alcohol (56%), cannabis (48%) and benzodiazepines (24%).

The number of cases treated for cocaine increased year-on-year from 708 cases in 2013 to 2,254 cases last year. 

However, the most significant increase to date has been an increase of 50% between 2017 (1,500 cases) and 2018 (2,254 cases). Cocaine represented 31% of new entrants to treatment in 2018, as compared to 9% in 2012.

Research conducted by the HRB discovered that young people under 18 years of age accounted for just over one in every 10 new cases treated in 2018. A high level of unemployment (62%) was found among cases treated in 2018, as in previous years, while the number of cases in paid employment increased from 578 in 2012 (7% of cases) to 1,735 in 2018. The study also found that 70% of cases were men.

Dr Darrin Morrissey, chief executive at the Health Research Board said: “The 50% increase in cocaine dominates the figures published today. It represents the majority of the increase in all treatment cases.

“HRB figures show a consistent rise in treatment for cocaine since 2013 with the biggest increases in 2017 and 2018 and highlights a changing pattern of drug use during the recent economic recovery.”

Dr Suzi Lyons, who is a senior researcher at the HRB, said the fact that people are reaching out looking for help is “encouraging”.

She added: “Just over half of the cases treated for problem cocaine use had never been in treatment before. The fact that people are seeking help is encouraging, particularly because many also used other drugs such as alcohol, cannabis and benzodiazepines and mixing drugs in this way can impact on recovery and increase the risk of overdose.”

In 2018, a total of 10,274 cases were treated for problem drug use. The number of new entrants to treatment increased from 3,272 in 2012 to 3,962 in 2018.

Merchants Quay Ireland, the national homeless and addiction charity, said that the latest drug treatment statistics “demonstrates the depth of the drugs crisis in Ireland”.

The charity has called for the full implementation of the National Drugs Strategy, including an increase in residential and community detox services.

Responding to the statistics, Merchants Quay Ireland chief executive Paula Byrne said: “These figures demonstrate the depth of the growing drugs crisis in Ireland today. With over 10,000 cases of treatment for problem drug use, it’s clear that addiction is a significant challenge facing communities across Ireland.

“A 50% increase in cases seeking treatment for cocaine use is deeply concerning. In own our crisis services, we have seen an increase in clients using cocaine as their primary drug.  While it is welcome that people are seeking treatment, it makes clear that the Government cannot relent in its implementation of the National Drugs Strategy.” 

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