Cocaine is the only drug where there has been a continuous rise in treatment since 1999.
Statistics obtained by the Irish Examiner from the Health Research Board show the number of people either entering treatment or returning to treatment and reporting cocaine as their main problem drug has steadily risen.
There were 48 cases in 1999, 57 in 2000, 85 in 2001, 140 in 2002, 273 in 2003, 353 in 2004 and 482 in 2005 — a 900% rise over seven years. Until now, the most recent figures available were for 2002.
“There is an increase in cocaine use,” said Dr Jean Long, acting head of the boards Alcohol and Drug Research Unit. “The increase may not be even, but there is an increase across the country in cocaine use.
“While there is more in Dublin, it’s not like opiate use in the late 90s or early 2000s, which was concentrated in Dublin.”
The data does not include cases where cocaine is a secondary drug to a main problem drug, such as heroin. The last figures for this was in 2002, when 1,235 such cases were recorded.
Many drug workers say cocaine users, particularly those not using heroin, are reluctant to attend the main centres, which traditionally cater for heroin users.
“In 2002, over 40 community representatives from Dublin said there was a problem with cocaine,” said Anna Quigley of Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign.
“Not until 2005 was there any official recognition, but they are still not listening to us. The Government is waiting for a crisis.”
A report published last March — which confirmed the spread of cocaine use across the country — called for the establishment of cocaine-specific services.
The research — commissioned by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs — also recommended more training for frontline staff.
Drugs Strategy Minister Noel Ahern has said the HSE was considering setting up two cocaine-specific treatment services.
Quantities of cocaine seized have jumped by 750%, from 17kgs in 2002 to around 270kgs in 2006.
Cocaine-related offences jumped by 300%, from 297 in 2002 to 1,224 in 2005.
The last prevalence survey in 2002-03 showed that 5% of 15-34-year olds had taken cocaine at least once.
The board's figures show the total number of people in treatment for problem drug use rose from 8,026 in 1999 to 12,025 in 2005.
The board feel this is due to an increase in treatment services available, an increase in reporting and “to a lesser extent” a rise in drug use. It said the number of new cases or return cases was stable.
While the total number of heroin addicts in treatment jumped from 3,624 to 6,924, new or return cases also remained stable.