70% rise in treatment for cocaine since 2012

Treatment for cocaine use has surged with numbers jumping by 70% in the past four years.

Health Research Board statistics reveal that cases have risen to record highs in the last two years.

HRB treatment data also shows that cases of homeless people presenting for treatment have almost doubled and that abuse of benzodiazepines (tranquilisers) continues to rise.

The drug figures found that the total number of treatment cases involving cocaine as the main problem drug rose from 666 in 2012, to 1,026 in 2015, and to 1,138 in 2016 — up 71% on 2012.

The rise is greater among new cases (the rest have been treated previously), with cocaine numbers increasing by 91%, from 297 to 568, in the same period.

“Since 2014, there has been a steady increase in the proportion of cases reporting cocaine as a main problem drug, rising from 8% (708 cases) of all cases in 2013 to 12% (1,138) of all cases in 2016,” said Dr Suzi Lyons, HRB senior researcher.

She said the increases have been in both new and previously treated cases — and pointed out a sharp rise among women, accounting for 23% of cases in 2016, compared to 14% in 2010.

Treatment for cocaine rose significantly during the Celtic Tiger years, right up until the recession and austerity.

Cases rose steadily, from 353 in 2004 to 784 in 2008 and to 869 in 2010, after which they dropped to 666 by 2012. The proportion of cocaine cases reporting crack use increased from 9% in 2010 to 11% in 2016.

It also found a significant increase in the numbers of cocaine cases where the user was in employment — from 15% (2010) to 28% (2016).

The HRB bulletin shows that the total number of cases rose from 8,806 in 2010 to 9,227 in 2016, due to a rise in previously treated cases, as new cases dropped from 3,741 to 3,526.

The fall in new cases is noteworthy as it is seen as an indicator of drug trends.

Other findings show:

  • Opiates (mainly heroin) cases fell, but remain the most commonly treated drug (47% of all cases);
  • Cannabis remains the second most commonly treated drug and the most common drug among new cases;
  • There were 897 cases where benzodiazepines were the main problem drug in 2016, up on 2015 and more than double the number in 2010;
  • Benzodiazepines were the most common additional drug (to the main problem drug), featuring in 2,105 cases, followed by alcohol (1,943), cannabis (1,878), and cocaine (1,475);
  • Homeless people accounted for 9.6% of all cases in 2016, up from 5.1% in 2010;
  • Travellers accounted for 3.2% of cases in 2016 (2.8% in 2010) even though they comprise just 0.7% of the general population

The report found that the median age of users was 30 in 2016 (28 in 2010) and that 629 were under 18, compared to 744 in 2010. Some 72% of all users were male.

The bulletin says the bulk of users were unemployed (66%) and that 35% had left school before the age of 16.


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