Record numbers seek treatment for cocaine use

Drug ‘dominates’ Ireland’s latest statistics with unprecedented 50% surge in new cases

Record numbers of people in the State are seeking treatment for cocaine use, with an unprecedented 50 per cent surge in new cases last year.

Demand for treatment from users of all other drugs combined, including cannabis and heroin, increased by only eight per cent during the same period.

The sharp spike in the number of cocaine users presenting for treatment is being linked to rising consumption of the drug due to the economic recovery.

Chief executive of the Health Research Board (HRB), Dr Darrin Morrissey, said the rapidly rising number of cocaine users now seeking treatment "dominates" Ireland's latest drug trends.

“It represents the majority of the increase in all treatment cases,” Dr Morrissey said of the cocaine treatment cases.

“HRB figures show a consistent rise in treatment for cocaine since 2013, with the biggest increases in 2017 and 2018, and highlight a changing pattern of drug use during the recent economic recovery.”

The worsening national cocaine problem has emerged in data for last year from the HRB’s national drug treatment-reporting system which was due for release on Thursday.


The report found 10,274 drug treatment cases last year, up 15 per cent on 2017. Heroin accounted for 4,349 of the cases, cannabis 2,358, and cocaine 2,254.

The report said between 2012 and last year the total number of all drug treatment cases had increased by 28 per cent with cocaine users accounting for the vast majority of that increase.

Some 3,962 of last year’s drug treatment cases involved people new to the drug treatment system, the report found, made up of 1,505 for cannabis, 1,232 for cocaine and 719 for opiates.

“Last year was the first time the number of first-time treatment cases for cocaine was higher than for heroin,” it said.

The majority, 65 per cent, of cases were treated at out-patient facilities, prisoners accounted for 10 per cent, in-patient facilities 14 per cent, and GPs two per cent.


Cocaine accounted for nine per cent of new drug treatment cases in 2012, rising to 31 per cent of new treatment cases last year. While the cocaine problem was worsening there were some signs that problem heroin and cannabis use was more stable or decreasing.

Opioids, or heroin, were the main problem drug in treatment cases between 2012 and 2018. It accounted for 42 per cent of all treatment cases in 2018, down from 52 per cent in 2012.

Similarly, cannabis accounted for almost 29 per cent of treatment cases in 2012, falling to 23 per cent last year.

The new figures come just weeks after Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said he believed the improving economy was impacting crime rates.

He said rising disposable incomes had resulted in increased consumption of drugs and alcohol. This, he said, was in turn leading to more public disorder and assaults.

The latest crime data also reveals an increase in drug crime; up nine per cent last year followed by a 20 per cent increase in the first six months of this year.