For the first time in the State more people have been presenting for treatment for cocaine use than for cannabis, while the number of children entering drug treatment has also significantly increased.
New data for drug trends in Ireland from the Health Research Board (HRB) reveals that although heroin remains a very significant problem, it is being displaced by cannabis and particularly cocaine.
Men about 30 years of age have been using cocaine, while drinking alcohol, in such large numbers they are driving changes for the treatment of all drug types, the HRB has found.
Its findings correspond with concerns among senior Garda officers who told The Irish Times that cocaine had become increasingly popular among men with higher disposable incomes as the economy had recovered in recent years.
A total of 10,664 cases were treated for problem drug use last year, up from 10,274 in 2018. The same drug user can account for more than one case in a year.
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Children, aged 17 years or younger, accounted for 7.7 per cent of all drug treatment cases last year and 15.5 per cent of new cases. Three-quarters of people, of any age, seeking drug treatment were male.
Interim chief executive at the HRB, Dr Mairead O’Driscoll, said the new figures “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,” she said.
The new 2019 drug treatment data, set for release on Thursday by the HRB, reveals numbers now seeking treatment for cocaine as their main problem drug having trebled since 2013. Some 14 per cent of cocaine users in treatment last year also said they had used crack cocaine, up from 11 per cent in 2018.
Opioids, mainly heroin, were the main problem drug reported in 39 per cent of treatment cases last year, down from 51 per cent in 2013. For the first time last year more people who presented for treatment described cocaine as their main problem drug rather than cannabis.
Cocaine was the main drug of choice in 24 per cent of all drug treatment cases last year, up from 8 per cent in 2013. Cannabis was the main drug in 23.5 per cent of all cases last year, down from 29 per cent in 2013.
Some 24 per cent of people in drug treatment last year had injected a drug at some point – a high-risk behaviour – down from 36 per cent in 2013. Of all the drug users in treatment last year, some 65 per cent were treated in outpatient facilities, 15 per cent in residential settings and 3 per cent by GPs.