The number of people entering treatment for crack cocaine use has increased by 400 per cent in the past six years, according to the latest figures from the Health Research Board (HRB).
In 2014, 84 people entered drug treatment for crack cocaine use. Last year that figure had increased to 414.
Powdered cocaine continues to be the most popular form of cocaine, accounting for 84 per cent of people seeking help in relation to the drug last year. However, women are becoming increasingly more likely to become addicted to crack.
The crack form of the drug is smoked instead of snorted and produces a short but intense high. It is typically much cheaper than powdered cocaine, selling for about €20 for one “rock”.
The number of women reporting problems with the drug has increased by 80 per cent since 2018. Last year just 10 per cent of male cocaine users were addicted to the crack form of the drug. The figure for women was 30 per cent.
Crack has become significantly more common in deprived areas such as Ballymun in north Dublin city. Dublin City Council recently reported a "surge" in the use of the drug in the area.
Gardaí have also become aware, for the first time, of a phenomena known as “cuckooing” in deprived areas where drugs gangs take over council houses to use them as a base to sell crack and heroin.
Those seeking treatment for the use of powdered cocaine also increased last year, despite an overall 9 per cent drop in people seeking treatment for drug abuse.
Cocaine is now the primary problem drug in one in every four cases. Those seeking help for its use have increased threefold since 2014, with more than 2,600 entering treatment last year.
In 2020, for the first time, cocaine was the most common drug among new cases entering treatment.
For the second year in a row, it surpassed cannabis as the second most common drug among new and existing drug treatment cases.
It is now more common than alcohol and benzodiazepines as a secondary problem drug in cases where people report issues with multiple substances.
There are distinct socio-economic differences between powdered cocaine and crack cocaine users, said Dr Anne Marie Carew, the HRB's research officer.
“In general, those seeking treatment for powdered cocaine use are male, aged 30, in paid employment and most likely to use alcohol as an additional drug. Crack cocaine cases, however, are more likely to be unemployed and homeless.”
Opioids, mainly heroin, remain the most common problem drug for people seeking treatment, accounting for 37 per cent of all cases in 2020.
However, this figure has declined from 50 per cent six years previously.
For the first time, the HRB has gathered data on parents seeking drug treatment. About 25 per cent of people who sought treatment last year had children under the age of 17 who did not live with them.
About 10 per cent had children under the age of 17 which they lived with.