According to experts, three quarters of the addicts are male, and range in age from their 20s to their 50s. Around 95% are under 30.
It is estimated that, 10 years ago, there were no more than 20 heroin addicts in the region, which had at that time escaped the heroin scourge which had taken serious hold in parts of Dublin.
However, Garda sources say heroin has now become cheaper to obtain.
A full-blown addict could now get by on spending between €50 and €100 per day to feed their habit, they said.
Addicts start by smoking the drug, but after a while they “don’t get the same buzz from it and start injecting intravenously”, a Garda source said.
David Lane, co-ordinator of the Drugs and Alcohol Service for HSE South, said 250 Cork heroin addicts are currently on a methadone treatment programme.
However, he said it was rare that his staff ever came across a heroin addict who sticks exclusively to that drug.
He said they usually also consume alcohol, cannabis, and prescription drugs.
“It [heroin use] has become more visible [in Cork] because of injecting. It became more apparent here from the mid-2000s on,” said Mr Lane.
He said the reason for the rise in heroin use is that there is now a market for it, and that some people were not getting a kick any more from other drugs.
Mr Lane said more people were using it because they had been introduced to heroin through networks of friends. Some addicts feed their own habit by supplying friends.
On a positive note, he said that a needle exchange programme, which is run by local pharmacies, has seen a significant drop in infections such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.
“We do screening for viral infections, and since the needle exchange programme was introduced two years ago we have seen a significant reduction in them,” Mr Lane said.
The pharmacies provide addicts with clean needles and encourage them to contact the HSE’s drugs and alcohol treatment service.
Mr Lane said the first point of contact for addicts is through the local Drugs Taskforce projects.
There are 16 Taskforce projects in the city and suburbs and a further seven in the county.