A new drugs phenomenon called 'Snowballing', which a senior addiction counsellor describes as "catastrophic", has begun to emerge in Cork and Limerick.
The deadly fix involves a combination of crack cocaine and heroin.
Michael Guerin, a senior addiction therapist who is attached to the Cuan Mhuire centre in Bruree in Co Limerick, said: "This 'snowballing' is already causing massive problems" and said attempts to treat it was"like trying to apply the brakes of a car with another foot and the accelerator".
"'Snowballing' involves the simultaneous injection of a mix of crack cocaine and heroin. Those we come across seeking help say the experience they get is beyond what they have experienced in addiction over many years of using cannabis and cocaine. Trying to get addicts off this snowballing is a massive challenge, as big as we have ever come across and it will only lead to more death."
Mr Guerin said the snowball craze is coming with the emergence of new levels of crack cocaine abuse in the Cork/Limerick regions.
"It is very difficult to identify crack cocaine use as a urine sample for crack cocaine will give the same result as a sample for cocaine," he said. "And the only way of getting an idea of the level of crack cocaine use is from addicts coming to us and telling us they are using it. And since the latter end of 2019 more people, mainly males, are coming to us with major addiction issues arising from crack cocaine."
He said crack cocaine costs about €80 euro a gram on the streets and gives users a far bigger 'high' than cocaine.
Crack cocaine is made by 'cooking' cocaine and mixing it with various additives.
Mr Guerin said: "Crack cocaine creates a very intense euphoria and this is short-lived. When it wears off the user then hits a deep dark low in what they call the 'comedown'.
What is now emerging is that dealers in heroin are also getting into dealing in crack cocaine, operating mainly in Cork city and Limerick city for the Munster area.
"An addict who finds themself in a withdrawal stage will go for more crack cocaine and their dealer will give them heroin and crack cocaine. This intensifies the level of addiction and this is where this relatively new phenomenon known as 'snowballing' kicks in.
"The dealer supplies heroin and crack cocaine which is mixed and injected simultaneously.
"Trying to treat this new level of addiction is almost impossible - like trying to apply the brakes of a car with another foot and the accelerator.
"Over the past few months we are witnessing a significant increase in the numbers who have been caught in this snowballing addiction. It is a potentially catastrophic development in the whole heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine addiction scene.
"The dealers who previously only sold heroin are growing their deadly business with crack cocaine and it really is frightening what is now going on."
In recent months the centre in Bruree has also noted a general increase in demand for its services over the course of the lockdown period, including for gambling issues.