Number of men admitted to treatment for cocaine addiction at rehab centre doubles

Increase in admissions linked by Coolmine to drug’s availability, with charity saying cocaine now ‘as accessible as packet of cigarettes’

Cocaine illustration
Heroin used to be the most prevalent drug among men accessing Coolmine's services, but in the past four to five years, there has been a 'significant rise' in cocaine use. Illustration: Paul Scott

The number of men admitted for cocaine addiction treatment in the first three months of the year is more than double the figure for the same period last year, the chief executive of a national drug recovery charity has said.

Between January and March 2023, there were 28 men admitted to Coolmine Lodge, the male residential rehabilitation centre, for cocaine addiction, representing 54 per cent of total admissions at that time.

By comparison, there were 13 admissions for cocaine dependency during the same period in 2022, which represented 31 per cent of individuals admitted during that time.

In 2018, the total number of new presentations of people with cocaine addiction was 50, compared to 28 in the first three months of this year alone.


On Friday, Coolmine Treatment Centre will celebrate its 50th anniversary, having opened in 1973 with one site, but now having grown to 14 facilities and more than 2,000 service users annually.

Pauline McKeown, chief executive of the charity, said a lot has changed in the years since it first opened, particularly around the complexity of addiction, with many people now having a dependency on more than one type of drug.

Previously, heroin was the most prevalent drug among men accessing their services, but in the past four to five years, there has been a “significant rise” in cocaine use, she said.

“There has been a sustained increase in men using cocaine. There has also been a 10 per cent drop in heroin use, which would traditionally be the most prevalent drug type among men,” she added.

Ms McKeown said that increase is being driven by accessibility and availability: “It’s very accessible. It’s become normalised. In many ways, it’s equally as accessible as a packet of cigarettes.”

A recent report from the United Nations found that Irish people are the joint-fourth highest consumers of cocaine globally relatively speaking, with 2.4 per cent of Irish people reporting having used cocaine during the previous year, according to 2019 data, the latest available.

Ms McKeown said for women, prescription medication such as benzodiazepines, often referred to as benzols, have become increasingly prevalent.

“What we saw during Covid was an increase in what was originally prescribed medication. Women were prescribed medication for anxiety and depression during the pandemic but it became problem usage,” she said.

“That, on top of existing illicit drugs, made it very difficult to detox because when you have polydrug use [multiple drugs at one time], running multiple detoxes concurrently is not the mainstream.”

Another emerging trend Coolmine has noticed, Ms McKeown said, is an increase in homelessness among its clients.

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“It is greatly unlikely if someone leaves Coolmine into homelessness they will remain clean. Sometimes we extend the stay of someone – not because they need continued treatment – but just to ensure they don’t go into homelessness.”

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins will attend an event at Coolmine Lodge on Friday to mark its anniversary, where he will make an address before some of the clients who have availed of its services since its inception.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times