Problem drug use is on the rise in Ireland

Problem cocaine use is on the rise, with the number of cases of cocaine addiction jumping by 32% between 2016 and 2017.

The new figures from the Health Research Board (HRB) show that, while cocaine is the third most common problem drug reported to the National Drug Treatment Reporting System, its use has risen year after year.

The data shows that while problem cocaine use fell slightly between 2011 and 2013, it has risen every year since. The largest increase is from 12.3% in 2016 to 16.8% in 2017 — an increase of 32%.

A total of 1,500 cases were treated for cocaine use in 2017, almost double the number of cases in 2011 (770 cases). The number of new cases treated has risen from 396 in 2011 to 748 in 2017.

The HRB data shows that men account for four in every five cases reporting, while the most common additional drugs reported among cocaine cases were alcohol (58%), cannabis (48%), and benzodiazepines (25%).

A total of 63,303 cases presented for treatment for problem drug use (excluding alcohol) between 2011 and 2017. The number of treated cases increased from 8,361 in 2011 to 9,892 in 2015, and then decreased to 8,922 in 2017.

In 2017, opiates — mainly heroin — were the most common drugs reported among cases treated for problem drug use. However, the proportion of opiate cases has fallen in recent years.

Cannabis, cocaine, and benzodiazepines were respectively the second, third, and fourth most common drugs reported by cases in treatment in 2017.

Cannabis remains the most common drug among cases entering treatment for the first time. It was the most common drug among new cases in 2017, with four in every 10 new cases were treated for problem cannabis use.

Many of these cases were young people, with the average age for new cannabis cases standing at 21 years old, compared to 32 years old for opiates and 28 years old for cocaine.

A high level of unemployment (64%, or 5,702 cases) was found among cases treated in 2017, as in previous years. The number of cases in paid employment also increased from 670 in 2011 (8% of cases) to 1,280 in 2017 (14% of cases).

HRB chief executive Darrin Morrissey said the figures show drug use continues to seriously impact people right across Irish society.

“This is evident in the drug treatment data presented today, as well as the HRB’s recent drug-related deaths and alcohol treatment reports,” he said.

“Over the recent period of economic recovery, drug treatment trends are changing and the data we analyse from the HRB information systems helps to inform health services provision and the health policy responses to problem drug use in Ireland.”

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