Expert warns of cocaine epidemic threat in regions

REGIONS outside greater Dublin are at the early stages of a cocaine epidemic, a health expert warned yesterday.

And heroin is spreading rapidly across the country, according to statistics published by the Health Research Board (HRB).

Figures show the number of new cocaine cases in regional health board treatment clinics jumped six-fold between 1998 and 2002.

“The number of new cases reporting cocaine as a main problem drug increased from six in 1998 to 42 in 2002. These may be small numbers, but the rate of increase indicates the early stages of an epidemic across these health boards,” said Dr Jean Long of the HRB.

Dr Long said the rate of treated drug misuse outside the Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) almost trebled between 1998 and 2002.

According to figures published yesterday by the HRB the rate of new cases increased from 25 per 100,000 of the population in 1998 to 70 per 100,000 in 2002.

The Southern Health Board had the highest incidence (71 per 100,000), followed by the South Eastern Health Board (66 per 100,000). Next came the North Eastern Health Board (50); the Mid-Western Health Board (44); the Midland Health Board (42); the North Western Health Board (33) and the Western Health Board (11).

Dr Long said the rise was due to growing use, increased access to treatment and more treatment centres reporting to the National Drug Treatment Reporting System.

She added only four of the 49 general practitioners prescribing the heroin substitute methadone reported and none of the prisons responded.

The HRB report shows the number of new cases before treatment clinics outside Dublin jumped from 423 in 1998 to 1,273 in 2002, a 200% rise.

A breakdown of new cases showed that:

Opiate (mainly heroin) cases jumped from 35 to 148, a rise of 320%;

Cannabis cases rose from 245 to 843, an increase of 240%;

Ecstasy cases increased from 84 to 156, a rise of 86%;

Volatile inhalants jumped from nine to 34, an increase of 270%.

Including previously treated cases, the total number of people treated for opiates rose from 116 to 439, while cannabis cases jumped from 392 to 1,328.

The figures show there was a 7% rise in under 18s receiving treatment.

Injecting drug use trebled, from 96 in 1998 to 284 in 2002.

More drugs facts:

Heroin abuse treatment outside greater Dublin trebled since 1998.

Treatment for cocaine abuse jumped six-fold.

Injecting has trebled.

Treatment for cannabis abuse has more than doubled.

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