There has been a 50% surge in the number of people seeking treatment for cocaine — marking the largest annual increase in what is a growing trend over the last seven years.
More than half of the people have never been in drug treatment before, according to new figures.
The Health Research Board (HRB) report for 2018 also shows a seven-fold increase since 2012 in cases involving people in paid employment who are seeking help for cocaine.
Cocaine now rivals cannabis as the second most common treatment drug, with the gap narrowing dramatically in recent years.
“The 50% increase in cocaine dominates the figures,” said HRB chief executive Dr Darrin Morrissey.
“HRB figures show a consistent rise in treatment for cocaine since 2013 with the biggest increases in 2017 and 2018 and highlights a changing pattern of drug use during the recent economic recovery.”
Data from the National Drug Treatment Reporting System shows a rise in the total number of treatment cases over the last seven years, from 8,005 in 2012 to 10,274. Included in that is a sharp rise in new treatment cases (people who have not been treated before), from 3,272 in 2012 to 3,962 in 2018. The biggest rise was within the last year.
Opiates, mainly heroin, continue to be the main problem drug for people seeking treatment, accounting for 42% of all cases in 2018. But this proportion has dropped from 52% in 2012. Cannabis remains the second most common main problem drug. While numbers are increasing, in percentage terms it accounted for less in 2018 (23%) than in 2012 (29%).
In relation to cocaine, the trend is stark:
- There were 2,254 cocaine cases in 2018, just behind cannabis (2,358), with the gap narrowing dramatically since 2012, when there were 2,290 cannabis and 666 cocaine cases;
- Cocaine cases have more than trebled since 2012 and accounted for 22% of cases in 2018, compared to 8% in 2012;
- In relation to new treatment cases, the increase is even sharper, rising four-fold, from 297 in 2012 (9% of cases) to 1,232 in 2018 (31% of cases);
- The proportion of cases where the person is in paid employment jumped from 16% in 2012 to 35% in 2018;
Some 11% of those citing cocaine as their main drug specified crack cocaine as the substance involved.
The report shows that while the bulk of users in treatment are male (80%), the female proportion has increased (18% to 20%) Apart from the three main illegal drugs (opiates, cannabis, and cocaine), the report shows that a group of tranquillisers called benzodiazepines are by far the fourth most common drug reported, accounting for 10% of cases over much of the last seven years.
Cases involving Z-drugs (sedatives) have dropped, as have treatments for NPS (New Psychoactive Drugs) and MDMA (ecstasy).
The report shows just over half (53%) of cases involved polydrug use, or use of multiple drugs. This is lower than other years and compares to around 62% in 2012.
The most common additional drugs to the main problem drug people report are alcohol, benzodiazepines, cannabis, and cocaine.
HRB senior researcher Dr Suzi Lyons said: “The fact that people are seeking help is encouraging, particularly because many also used other drugs such as alcohol, cannabis and benzodiazepines and mixing drugs in this way can impact on recovery and increase the risk of overdose.”