One of Ireland's leading drug addiction centres registered 20 new heroin users every week last year, it was revealed today.
Merchants Quay Ireland says heroin use is fast becoming a national crisis, with the drug growing in popularity in many towns and cities.
The charity says the increase in heroin use outside Dublin is alarming and cities like Cork and Waterford now have significant problems with the drug.
In its latest annual report, the organisation says more than 5,200 people attended its clinics last year, including 942 new addicts using its needle exchange programme.
The centre said it was facing a growing demand for services and now offers addicts help in Carlow, Offaly, Laois, Westmeath and Longford as well as its main Dublin base.
Tony Geoghegan, Merchants Quay chief executive, called for a national network of crisis, treatment and family support services.
“Heroin respects no borders and users are now to be found in all areas from Ballyshannon to Ballydehob,” he said.
“Cities such as Cork and Waterford that might have been considered relatively unscathed five years ago now have significant problems.
“Heroin use is a national crisis.”
Mr Geoghegan called the Government’s new National Drugs Strategy short-sighted as there are no commitments for resources.
“British research shows that for every £1 spent on drug treatment £3 is saved in terms of social, health and criminal justice related expenditure,” he said.
“In this era of slashing and snipping we would ask that Government bears in mind the fact that early and effective intervention is the most cost effective way of addressing the drugs problem.”