Countries like Ireland that have seen a sharp rise in treatment for cocaine use in recent years should prepare for further increases, a new study has warned.
The research said Ireland was one of three European countries, out of ten states studied, that has experienced the largest increases in cocaine treatment in recent years.
The report said the typical time lag between the onset of a substance use disorder and accessing treatment was around a decade. It said that given studies have shown an increase in cocaine use generally in society, including in Ireland, numbers seeking treatment would probably grow.
The report, 'Cocaine treatment demands in ten Western European countries', covers the period 2011 to 2018. One of the 16 authors who contributed to it was Dr Suzi Lyons of the Health Research Board (HRB).
It said the trend across all 10 states studied was a reduction in cocaine treatment entrants between 2011 and 2014 followed by a “strong increase” since 2015.
“Seven out of 10 countries observed a recent significant increase in the proportion of treatment entrants reporting cocaine as primary substance,” it said.
The annual change in Ireland was 28.2%, followed by France (21.8%) and England (14.9%).
“Despite substantial country-specific variation regarding cocaine prevalence and treatment demand, there has been an overall significant increase since 2015 in the share of cocaine-related treatment demand in Western Europe,” the study said.
The number of cocaine seizures and the quantity seized in the EU reached the highest levels ever recorded in 2017, with a surge in the availability of high-purity cocaine for over a decade.
The number of deaths involving the use of cocaine, mostly in association with the use of alcohol or opioids, also dramatically increased in several European countries in recent years, it said.
In Ireland, cocaine-related deaths increased from 21 in 2010 to 53 in 2017 (+150%).
The report said the typical age of those in treatment in Ireland whose primary drug of abuse was cocaine was 30, lower than most countries (around 35).
It said Ireland was in the middle for those presenting in relation to crack cocaine (around 12% of all cocaine treatment cases), with crack accounting for far higher numbers (above 30%) in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and England.
The report said: “The strongest increase in the proportion of cocaine reported as the primary/adjunctive [additional] substance for treatment demand occurred in France, Ireland and Luxembourg (around 15-17% per year).”
It warned treatment numbers could grow further, citing the mean time lag of about a decade between onset of substance use disorder and seeking treatment.
“Higher treatment demand observed in 2015 might also concern persons who initiated using the substance in the early 2000s," it said.
"Therefore, the recent increase in prevalence of cocaine use might probably lead to an even further future increase in demand for treatment among the participating European countries.”