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New research interviewing users of crack cocaine has been published by University of Limerick. Alamy Stock Photo

Crack cocaine 'hit Limerick city like snow', drug users say

A dedicated addiction team has been formed to tackle crack cocaine use in the mid-west region.

INTENSE PARANOIA, AN “instant rush” and a “psychological addiction” are some of the feelings cited by crack cocaine users in Limerick as part of their addiction to the drug.

They feature in a candid new report, launched to coincide with the founding of a dedicated services team for crack cocaine in the mid-west region.

The report speaks to users and service providers on how the substance – a smokeable form of cocaine that produces a short but powerful high – has been on the rise in Limerick city especially in recent years. 

One drug user said they have found it is “everywhere” in the city, so that “now you just get it wherever you choose”.

The crisis is due to the work of a local gang which has sought to flood communities with the drug while using some residential properties as “24/7 crack houses”, according to a TD speaking to this website.

One of the directors of the drugs project told The Journal that it has become clear that Ireland now has drugs which are “more toxic and more potent than ever” as services grapple with increasing drug use. 

“It’s fair to say these people do describe a very serious situation, a very difficult situation,” Tony Duffin, chief executive of Ana Liffey Drug Project, said, adding that the drug users surveyed were “coping with very significant levels of trauma” which often caused the substance use initially.

aerial-view-shannon-river-flows-through-limerick-limerick-county-clare-limerick-ireland-europe-shannon-river Limerick city Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The region, taking in Clare and North Tipperary as well as Limerick city and county, has battled with rising drug use in recent times.

Data from the Health Research Board shows that cocaine treatment increased significantly in Limerick between 2018-2020, from 0 cases in 2004 to at least 120 cases each year for 2018-2020.

One prominent estate, St Mary’s Park, was listed as the most disadvantaged in the State in 2017, while there have been reports of crack houses morphing into “cocaine supermarkets” as problems worsened.

“It is a problem nationally but in the mid-west, and particularly Limerick city, there is a significant problem with crack cocaine, and we do engage with people who use crack cocaine and other drugs already,” Duffin said. 

“But I think there is a definite recognition within Ireland’s national drug strategy that for drug use, our response really needs to be a health response and I think this is a really good example of where law enforcement and health intersect and work together.”

The Law Engagement & Assisted Recovery (LEAR) programme will be administered by Ana Liffey, working closely with An Garda Síochána and the HSE, thanks to €200,000 funding made available by the Department of Health. It will begin in April.

Ana Liffey marked a decade working in Limerick last year, during which The Journal visited the local team.

LEAR is an outreach project which works with the most vulnerable crack cocaine users, to support them in relation to harm reduction and to help them to access drug treatment programmes.

‘Everyone got hooked’

The study heard from 15 men and 11 women aged from 24-57 about their experiences using crack cocaine. Just two were employed at the time.

All were using other drugs at the same time as crack, with a large number using heroin at the same time while a small number used cannabis and benzodiazepines such as Xanax.

Researchers also found that people are taking 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.

“So, they’re smoking heroin to come off the crack”.

It was also noted that the quality of crack cocaine being sold in Limerick keeps on depreciating.

“The lesser the quality of cocaine, the weaker the crack cocaine. One implication of this is that people have to use more to get the kind of feeling they desire,” the report’s authors said.

One user said the crack was “like 70% purity” when they first began using, which they said was “very, very strong”, but they claimed the strength has lessened significantly since.  

This had the effect of getting “everyone hooked and then they [dealers] kind of made
it weaker and weaker as they went along”, the person said. 

Those surveyed described their feelings around the drug – one saying they “loved the rush” – while several told how the drug has hit the city “like snow” over the past 18 months and expressed concerns of it spreading further into their community. 

“If it’s doing that already in a year and a half what’s it going to do in another year to Limerick? The way it’s progressing is mad,” one said. “It’s really scary the way crack is progressing”.

Political reaction

Limerick TD Maurice Quinlivan told The Journal that the drug “took hold” in the city over the past three years.

Quinlivan, who is a director of a drug and alcohol task force in the locality, said it can be traced back to a city-based gang which “decided their business model would be to deliberately target vulnerable people because they knew they’d have a customer base if they did that”.

“They knew what they were doing. It wasn’t an accident,” the Sinn Féin deputy said.

He said authorities have identifed houses which “operate 24/7 as crack houses”, adding that these needed to be targeted by other groups organisations such as the city and county council.

Quinlivan added that a Garda strategy called Operation Copóg set up to target gangs in Limerick had found some success but he said the solution to the crisis lied in addiction services having a key role.

“We need to make sure we have properly funded addiction services – this isn’t just a garda response – we need all parts working together.

“Ana Liffey were out on the ground during the pandemic – they actively give out crack pipes if people want them to help prevent the spread of disease. That outreach can’t be underestimated.”

Limerick county TD Niall Collins told The Journal that the problems are prevalent in the rural parts of mid-west.

“We get reports of the recreational use of cocaine and rural Limerick is no different to other counties in that regard. Some of it is also unfortunately crack cocaine, so much so that Ana Liffey put on a outreach vehicle where they can go and reach deep into he communities to support people who are facing those addictions.”

That vehicle, a new mobile health unit in the form of a custom-fitted van, was donated by JP McManus to the drugs project.

The need for the response has been identified both by an increase in clients presenting to treatment services for crack cocaine use and by the publication of the new study carried out by researchers at University of Limerick which found the need for more focused services and interventions to help people who use crack cocaine.

The study, commissioned by Ana Liffey Drug Project and funded by the HSE, was designed to explore the experiences of people who use crack cocaine in Limerick City.

Duffin described the services as a “new model of working” where gardaí in the region will be able to refer on people with addiction problems for Ana Liffey’s drugs services.

Derek Smart, Chief Superintendent of the Limerick Garda Division, said gardaí had developed a positive working relationship with Ana Liffey Drug Project over the years.

“Working in partnership with Ana Liffey, we will focus on the issue in Limerick City Centre. With the person’s consent, my team on the ground will make referrals to Ana Liffey’s LEAR team for people who fit the criteria as needing case management supports.”


Through the new service, three caseworkers will be employed dealing with a maximum of 20 drug users each. Two will be full-time and one will be part-time.

However, the report contains concerns from service providers about the level of resources going towards drug projects, with one staff member saying funding has been “brutal” for some time.

“There’s always going to be difficulties,” Duffin said.

“It’s always going to be a challenge, especially when drug trends do change over the years and decades, and making sure that services adapt appropriately.

“It’s obvious that initially, in Ireland, it was particularly an opiate problem, particularly heroin, now we have more drugs, more types of drugs, they’re more toxic than ever, more potent and they’re doing more harm.

“Within that as there’s a whole load of issues, and they all need to be addressed as best they can be and I think that the state is working with frontline services to try and identify those issues.”

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