A conference heard that abuse of both drugs was linked to wider issues of gang intimidation and violence.
The Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign hosted a conference yesterday with local projects on the situation regarding use of benzodiazepines (a group of tranquillisers), and crack cocaine.
Citywide co-ordinator Anna Quigley said that a survey they conducted of 21 local drug projects found “benzodiazepine and tablet use was widespread”.
She said that while most of the projects were in Dublin, they included community groups in counties Waterford, Cork, Tipperary and Wicklow.
She said the main benzodiazepine drugs mentioned were Valium, Xanax (including Xanax bars) and Zimovane. Xanax bars are the highest dosage of the medication and come in long, thin pills that can be divided.
Benzodiazepines are legally prescribed by GPs, but are often sold illicitly on the street.
Ms Quigley said counterfeit tablets were also in circulation and that no one knew what they contained or their strength.
She said benzos were often used by people using heroin and methadone, but that there was a “significant number” of women who had no history of opiate use presenting to services regarding the drug.
She said local projects also referred to ‘recreational’ use of benzos by young people, or usage that the young people considered to be recreational.
She said it was difficult to get these young people into services when they develop problems.
Ms Quigley said that the young people say they often take the tablets for a “strong stone”, or because of the strong effects of them.
She said one Traveller project reported that 80% of people were using benzos and that 40% were using Lyrica (pregablin), often prescribed as pain relief.
One women’s project said that 90% of their clients were on benzos.
Ms Quigley said that there were “very serious concerns” about the long-term implications for mental health from abusing benzos.
She said projects reported “huge difficulties” in developing care plans with state agencies, but said there were examples of good practice in some areas.
Ms Quigley said that crack cocaine was a “very significant” problem in a small number of areas in Dublin.
She said it tended to be taken with other drugs, such as methadone or alcohol, or combined with heroin (speedball).
She said the drug was linked to “rapid” effects on the user’s physical and mental health and that users were harder for projects to engage with, as they could be volatile. The drug was also linked with intimidation, violence and criminal activity.
Ms Quigley said that projects needed budgets and resources, as well as increased training for staff (including in dealing with mental health), improved inter-agency working and relationships with mental health and youth services.
The conference followed the publication of drug treatment data by the Health Research Board which found a 70% jump in cocaine cases (including an increase in crack cases) in the last four years and a general rise in benzodiazepine cases.