Big increase in problem cocaine use

Latest drug treatment figures from HRB
  • Deborah Condon

There has been a 'notable increase' in the number of cases presenting with problem cocaine use in recent years, the latest figures from the Health Research Board (HRB) have shown.

According to the figures, over 63,300 cases presented for treatment for problem drug use (excluding alcohol) between 2011 and 2017. The highest annual figure was recorded in 2015, when 9,892 cases presented for treatment.

In the most recent year that figures are available - 2017 - 8,922 cases presented for treatment. Some 37% of these were new cases.

While the proportion of opiate (mainly heroin) cases has fallen in recent years, they remain the most common problem drugs reported. In 2017, they accounted for 45% of all treatment cases.

Cannabis was the second most common main drug, accounting for 25% of cases treated in 2017.

Cocaine was the third most common main drug, accounting for 17% of all cases treated in 2017. However, the HRB noted that between 2016 and 2017, the number of cocaine cases jumped by 32%.

"There has been a notable increase in cases presenting with cocaine as their main problem drug since 2013, with a marked rise in the most recent figures from 1,138 cases in 2016, to 1,500 cases in 2017," commented Sr Suzi Lyons, HRB senior researcher.

The number of new cases treated for cocaine use jumped from 297 in 2012 to 748 in 2017, while overall, males accounted for four in five treatment cases.

The proportion of people seeking treatment for problem cocaine use who were in paid employment rose from 20% in 2011 to 34% in 2017.

Meanwhile, cannabis remains the most common main problem drug used among those entering treatment for the first time.

"Four in every 10 new cases were treated for problem cannabis use, many at a young age. The median age for new cannabis cases was 21 years, compared to 32 years for opiates and 28 years for cocaine," Dr Lyons explained.

Benzodiazepines were the fourth most common main problem drug, accounting for 10% of all treatment cases.

Overall, the HRB figures reveal that seven in 10 cases who underwent treatment were male and among new cases, around one in nine were under the age of 18.

While a high level of unemployment was found among cases treated in 2017 (64%), the number of cases in paid employment increased from 8% in 2011 to 14% in 2017.

"Problem drug use continues to seriously impact people throughout Irish society. This is evident in this drug treatment data, as well as the HRB's recent drug-related deaths and alcohol treatment reports.

"Over the recent period of economic recovery, drug treatment trends are changing and the data we analyse from the HRB information systems helps to inform health services provision and the health policy responses to problem drug use in Ireland," commented HRB chief executive, Darrin Morrissey.

The HRB figures are based on cases recorded by the National Drug Treatment Reporting Systems (NDTRS).


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