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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Shutterstock/Kevin L Chesson Stock photo of crack cocaine.
Crack Cocaine

Numbers seeking treatment for crack cocaine use surges nearly 400% since 2014

The number of women entering treatment for crack cocaine use has increased by almost 80% in two years.

THE AMOUNT OF cases of people seeking treatment for problem crack cocaine use has risen by 400% in recent years, according to the latest national statistics published by the Health Research Board (HRB).

The overall amount of cases of treatment for problem cocaine use – in  both powder and crack form – has continued to climb, despite as overall drop in the numbers entering drug treatment amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest report from the National Drug Treatment Reporting System reveals a total of 2,619 cases of treatment for problem cocaine use in 2020. That figure is more than three times the number in 2014, when 853 cases were reported.

The system counts treatment cases not individual people. This means 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.

While men continue to account for the majority of cases, the proportion of women reporting cocaine as the main problem drug has increased from 17% in 2014 to 21% in 2020.

For the first time, cocaine was found to be more common than alcohol and benzodiazepines as an additional problem drug, among cases where problem use of more than one drug was recorded.

The report, which covers the seven-year period from 2014 to 2020, shows that opioids remain the most common drug associated with problem drug use, not including alcohol.

However, the number of cocaine cases has continued to climb and accounted for approximately one in every four cases treated in 2020.

Crack cocaine

There has also been an increase in crack cocaine use, with the crystal form of the drug accounting for 16% of all cocaine cases last year.

The number of people seeking treatment for crack cocaine has increased by almost 400% since 2014.

The number of women entering treatment for addiction to crack cocaine has increased by almost 80% in the last two years.

It was also more common among women entering treatment for cocaine use, accounting for 30% of cases, than among men, when it accouted for 10% of cases.

The smokeable form of cocaine is made by chemically altering cocaine powder to form crystals or rocks. It produces a short but intense high with effects much stronger than the powdered version of the drug. It is also associated with increased anti-social behaviour.

Earlier this year, a report commissioned by Dublin City Council found that Ballymun is experiencing a surge in crack cocaine use, leading to an increase in drug addiction and youth crime.

“There are notable distinctions between cases reporting problem use of powdered cocaine and cases reporting problem use of crack cocaine,” Dr Anne Marie Carew of the Health Research Board said.

“In general, those seeking treatment for powdered cocaine use are male, aged 30, in paid employment and most likely to use alcohol as an additional drug.

“Crack cocaine cases, however, are more likely to be unemployed and homeless. Monitoring these trends is critical for developing tailored approaches to drug treatment,” Dr Carew added.

Despite the increase in cocaine numbers, the overall number of people entering drug treatment dropped by 9% last year.

However, the Health Research Board said this was because of measures introduced to comply with Covid-19 restrictions and does not indicate a real decline in demand for treatment. 

The Minister for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan said strengthening early harm reduction responses to drug use, including cocaine and crack cocaine, is a key theme in the National Drugs Strategy.

“The data highlight the importance of the health-led response to drug use. It is clear that drugs are having a huge impact on people’s lives, both physical and mental,” Minister Feighan said.

“While I acknowledge the importance of the policing in reducing drug supply, it is clear that additional health services are required to address the problem of drug use,” he added.

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