The number of people seeking treatment for problem cocaine use has risen in recent years, particularly among women, new figures have shown.
The latest drug treatment figures from the Health Research Board (HRB) show that a total of 63,187 people were treated for problem drug use (excluding alcohol) between 2010 and 2016.
According to senior HRB researcher, Dr Suzi Lyons, there have been changes in the types of drugs reported over this period.
"Opiates (mainly heroin) remain the main problem drug over the period, but they have decreased as a proportion of all cases treated, from 58% in 2010 to 47% in 2016. Meanwhile the proportion of all cases that report cocaine, cannabis and benzodiazepines have increased," she explained.
In fact, since 2014, there has been ‘a steady increase' in the proportion of cases reporting cocaine as a main problem drug, rising from 8% of all cases in 2013 to 12% in 2016.
"This rise is seen in both new and previously treated cases. There has also been an increase in the proportion of cases who were female, from 14% in 2010 to 23% in 2016," Dr Lyons pointed out.
Opiates remain the most commonly reported problem drug, with over 4,300 cases treated in 2016. Cannabis was the second most common drug, with 2,439 cases treated in 2016, while cocaine was the third most common, with 1,138 cases treated in 2016.
The figures noted that there has been an increase in the number of people reporting use of benzodiazepines (sedatives). The number of cases treated for benzodiazepine use rose from 4% (365 cases) in 2010 to 10% (897) in 2016.
However, benzodiazepines also appear to have a big role when it comes to polydrug use (problem use of more than one drug).
Almost two-thirds of cases over the study period reported problem polydrug use and up to 2013, alcohol was the most common additional drug reported. However since 2014, benzodiazepines have become the most common additional drugs reported.
Meanwhile, the figures show that the average age of people seeking treatment for problem drug use increased from 28 years in 2010 to 30 years in 2016. Seven in 10 cases were male and in 2016, 66% were unemployed and 10% were homeless.
"The figures show a decrease in the proportion of new cases, or people presenting for treatment for the first time. However there has been an increase in the proportion of previously treated cases, or people returning for treatment, indicating the chronic, relapsing nature of addiction," Dr Lyons added.
The figures can be viewed in full here