A meeting of the Cork City Joint Policing Committee (JPC) yesterday heard Chief Superintendent Michael Finn say that there was a noticeable increase in heroin use in the city centre last year, but it seems to have stabilised recently.
The heroin problem is to be aired at a meeting of the JPC, likely to be held in late April or early May to which the public will be invited.
It has been estimated by gardaí and health officials that there are now 500 heroin addicts in the city, only half of whom are getting help, or using the free needle exchange programme.
The senior garda made his comments following a number of questions from councillors and TDs, who are members of the JPC, at the meeting which took place in City Hall.
Chief Supt Finn said the number of heroin users had increased during 2014, but maintained gardaí “had kept a lid on things” with the help of agencies including the Drugs Taskforce and HSE.
He said Cork had been luckier than most urban areas which saw the impact of heroin several years ago.
Crime statistics showed robbery from the person had grown by 53% last year and some of the victims were tourists.
JPC chairman and Sinn Féin councillor Chris O’Leary said the public meeting on heroin addiction would be publicised when an exact date and venue had been decided.
“We will have a number of agencies present including representatives from the National Drugs Enforcement Agency, youth workers, Drugs Taskforce, HSE, and other intervention services,” Mr O’Leary said.
“This meeting will be open to the public and if there are people out there who want to raise issues about heroin use then we want them to come along to it,” he said.
Chief Supt Finn said that gardaí were working closely with the HSE and other agencies to combat the scourge of heroin.
The price of heroin has fallen in recent years, but a full-blown user probably spends up to €100 daily to feed their habit, prompting them to rob from people, especially at night around the city centre.
The heroin explosion had came late to Cork and estimates had pointed to no more than 20 heroin addicts in the city 10 years ago.
Three quarters of the addicts are male and range in age from their 20s to their 50s. Around 95% are under 30. They normally start by smoking the drug, but after a while don’t get the same buzz from it and start injecting intravenously.
The sight of discarded needles is commonplace in toilets and on streets and quays in certain parts of Cork. Around 250 addicts are currently on a methadone treatment programme.
Meanwhile, the needle exchange programme has led to a significant drop in the transmission of hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.