Children as young as 13 are getting caught up in the cocaine boom sweeping the country, an addiction counsellor has warned.
Michael Guerin, who works at Cuan Mhuire in Bruree, Co Limerick, said a surge in the past 18 months has resulted in record numbers “crying out” for treatment.
Mr Guerin said cocaine was once concentrated in cities but has now reached every corner of rural Ireland at a scale never seen before.
“At the moment, we have over 250 files on males over the age of 18 who are in need of urgent admission to our drugs unit, which has a capacity of 26 beds.
“Two years ago, the number waiting for admission was about 60, so that gives a very stark picture of the scale of the crisis, which can be attributed to one drug — cocaine.”
Mr Guerin said many of them could die unless they get immediate treatment.
“Many on our waiting list are in imminent danger of death due to the depth of their addiction,” he said.
“Many of the young men in their late teens got into using cocaine when they were as young as 13, and this use in the early teens has got worse.
“The people pushing the gateway drugs such as cannabis are getting youngsters in their early teens into using cocaine.
“We are also finding that a very high percentage of young men being admitted to our alcohol treatment unit are also doubly addicted to a drug, usually cocaine.
“Most of the 18-year-olds admitted are in heavy addiction, mostly from cocaine, having started years earlier.
Mr Guerin, who has worked for more than 15 years at Cuan Mhuire, said cocaine is so widely available that teenagers in rural areas are now as vulnerable as those in towns and cities.
Earlier this year, a senior garda warned that record production of cocaine and rising income levels are creating a new boom in the cocaine trade.
Detective Superintendent Seamus Boland says what Ireland is experiencing is being witnessed across much of Europe.
European sources have previously told the Irish Examiner that a “tsunami” of cocaine was coming from South America for the European market.
“Internationally, the production of cocaine in the last 12 months is one of the highest recorded,” said Det Supt Boland.