Irish people joint-fourth highest consumers of cocaine globally, says UN

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime warns of risks of violence in future as gangs compete for growing markets

Irish people are the joint-fourth highest consumers of cocaine globally relatively speaking, according to a new United Nations report.

According to the report, 2.4 per cent of Irish people reported using cocaine during the previous year, the same as in the US and Austria. Only Australia, the Netherlands and Spain reported higher levels of cocaine use. The data for Ireland related to 2019, the latest available.

The Global Report on Cocaine 2023 from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also warned of the potential of future violence in Ireland due to competition for expanding cocaine markets and the rise in use of crack cocaine.

The cocaine market was hit badly by Covid-19, but this had no impact on longer term trends and production has now surpassed pre-pandemic rates, the UNODC said. The amount of cocaine produced globally is reportedly more than double the amount produced in 2014.


Last year the Health Research Board reported that between 2011 and 2019 there was a 171 per cent increase in the number of young people receiving treatment for cocaine abuse.

Western Europe has become one of the world’s major cocaine markets, the UN agency said. Seizures and consumption had either declined or plateaued during 2020 due to Covid-19, but have since rebounded strongly.

Purity of cocaine at retail level has also increased dramatically. In 2009, cocaine in Europe was around 35 per cent pure. Now it averages at more than 60 per cent pure, the report stated.

The agency said following the fallout from the Hutch-Kinahan feud, which claimed 18 lives, the Irish cocaine trade is still mainly controlled by Irish gangs.

However, Albanian organised crime groups have also started establishing themselves in Ireland. UNODC said there is no evidence yet of these gangs encroaching on the activities of more established Irish groups.

“However, analysts warn that expanding cocaine use across diverse user groups in Ireland and the UK, as well as Ireland’s potential role as a transit country for UK cocaine, are likely to lead to violent clashes in future,” it said.

Violence and intimidation are perceived to be associated with the dealing of cocaine in Irish communities, it said.

In inner city Dublin, users are able to acquire cocaine for no money up front. This leads to individuals building up large debts, resulting in them becoming victims of intimidation. In some cases they are coerced into intimidating others themselves.

The UNODC notes the growing participation of children, some as young as age 10, in intimidation, including throwing stones at houses and damaging cars.

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However, it said, despite some disadvantaged communities perceiving greater levels of drug-related violence and intimidation, “there is no systematic data to indicate an increase in violence over time”.

Regarding actual consumption of the drug, the vast majority of Irish users snort it nasally, the report said. Just 1 per cent inject it and 2 per cent eat or drink it.

Smoking is by far the most common method of using crack cocaine in Ireland. Just 3 per cent of users report injecting the drug.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times