David Lane, co-ordinator of the HSE’s Southern Region Drugs & Alcohol Taskforce, said his services deal with around 2,000 people in the region every year and for 85% of them, alcohol is their main drug.
He told a Cork County joint policing committee (JPC) meeting more than 1.1m people in this country drink harmfully.
Mr Lane said he welcomed the new national drug and alcohol plan published during the summer which, for the first time, recognised the harm that alcohol was causing.
“It’s very rare that the people we see will be using just one substance, but alcohol is the primary drug,” he said.
Mr Lane said minimum unit pricing was needed along with restrictions on marketing and advertising of alcohol.
“When I was younger alcohol wasn’t as freely available as it is today,” he said.
“You can now get it in your local garage.
“We’ve become immune to having beer and wine next to milk in our fridges and children see this.”
He said, fortunately, the HSE had invested significantly in addiction services.
“In 2008 we were working with around 1,000 people a year.
“We nearly doubled our staff during the recession so we are helping more people,” he said.
Chief Supt Barry McPolin gave the JPC meeting a presentation on crime figures, most of which are on the rise.
Serious and minor assaults were up during the third quarter of this year, compared to the same period in 2016.
Assaults causing harm rose from 84 to 97, while minor assaults increased from 272 to 374.
Meanwhile, drunkenness offences were up from 289 to 318.
Non-aggravated burglaries in the city and county rose from 163 to 269, vehicle theft was up from 56 to 110, while shop theft increased from 459 to 582.
The senior garda said additional patrols, both overt and covert, had been put in place in Cork since October 1 to combat burglaries which are being carried out by criminal gangs, many of whom travel into the region from other parts of the country.
Chief Supt McPolin said the increase in assaults and drunkenness was probably linked to an increase in socialising as people have more money than they did during the recession.
Traffic accidents have also increased. There were five fatal accidents in the third quarter of this year, compared to just one in the same period last year.
A total of 1,326 material damage accidents were reported, up from 1,250.
Cllr Daithí Ó Donnabháin, a solicitor, said he has seen an increase in the number of 18 to 25 year-olds coming before the courts for drink and drug-driving.
Chief Supt Con Cadogan said 18% of those found driving under the influence in Cork West Garda Division had tested positive for drugs.
Senator Jerry Buttimer claimed there were too many speed checks on the Ballincollig bypass, while other roads where speeding was a serious problem were being ignored by the gardaí.
Chief Supt McPolin said the number of accidents on the bypass warranted the speed checks.