Sharp rise in number of drug users in treatment using cocaine

There has been an 80% jump over the last four years in the number of drug users in treatment who are using cocaine, according to new research.

The figures have continued to rise nationally in the first six months of this year, with particular increases in Dublin.

Data gathered by the HSE’s National Drug Treatment Centre show that the percentage of drug users in treatment testing positive for cocaine jumped between 2012 and 2016, from 5% to 9%.

Research conducted by Siobhan Stokes in the Health Research Board found there was a “year-on-year increase” over the last four years, with the biggest rise between 2015 and 2016.

It brings levels back up to the height of positive tests during 2004 and 2008, when it ranged between 8% and 9.5%.

“The number of samples positive for cocaine were high in this cohort during the years 2004-2009 (which roughly correspond to the Celtic Tiger years), but decreased between 2008 and 2012, from 9.6% to 4.9%, respectively, which again could be attributed to the recession years,” said Ms Stokes.

Writing in Drugnet Ireland, she said the increasing trend between 2012 and 2016 was continuing into 2017.

Ms Stokes said a monthly breakdown of the first six months of this year, show that the percentage testing positive reached 11.5% in May and 13% in June.

“In June 2017, 13.2% of all samples tested positive for cocaine. This is significantly higher than what was seen at the height of the Celtic Tiger from 2004 to 2008 and the ongoing trajectory appears to be upwards,” Ms Stokes said.

She noted that deaths, where cocaine was implicated, have been rising since 2010, with a 25% jump between 2013 and 2014, from 32 to 40 deaths.

“A degree of correlation between the number of deaths where cocaine was implicated and patient samples testing positive for cocaine seems evident,” Ms Stokes said.

“With increased cocaine usage in 2015 and 2016, one might anticipate increased deaths involving cocaine in these years and further increases into the future, as cocaine positive samples are continuing to increase month by month.”

Ms Stokes said the public should be made aware of the “very real risk of fatality from cocaine use”.

She said the majority of drug users tested are on opioid substitution treatment (OST).

Ms Stokes also said that there were significant regional variations and that positive samples in Dublin OST clinics in June averaged 17.6%.

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