‘Uberisation’ of cocaine trade blamed as drug use increases in Ireland

Major new study finds cocaine use growing faster in Ireland than in most European countries

The use of cocaine and crack cocaine is growing faster in the Republic than in most European countries and cocaine has become purer and more plentiful due to the “Uberisation” of the trade, a major new study has found.

Of the 30 European countries studied, more people in Ireland had used cocaine in the "last 12 months" than any other nation apart from the United Kingdom and Spain.

The Republic was among a group of six countries that recorded a significant increase in numbers of crack cocaine users presenting for treatment since 2014. Cannabis was growing in popularity more rapidly with young people in Ireland and Finland of all the nations whose drugs trends were reviewed.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has pointed to the “Uberisation” of the cocaine trade.


This involved the use of social media and technology to lower barriers of entry into the cocaine trade and to bring about instant delivery of the drug to users in the way Uber had transformed the taxi trade.

“Smaller (criminal) groups have been able to enter the market by using a range of information technology like encryption, darknet market places, social media for dealing and cryptocurrencies,” the European Drug Report, Trends and Developments concludes.

As with the legitimate economy, the influence of the smart phone was being harnessed by drugs gangs. This was making for “a competitive market in which sellers compete by offering additional services such as fast and flexible delivery options”.

The report also states that the number of seizures and the volume involved in seizures was "at an all-time high" in Europe. Cocaine purity at retail level was at its highest for a decade.

In relation to the Republic, the report said 7.8 per cent of people aged 15 to 64 years had tried cocaine during their lifetime compared to the European average of 5.4 per cent. The UK was highest, on 10.7 per cent, followed by Spain on 10.3 per cent and Ireland third.

Ireland was second in the league of MDMA use; some 9.2 per cent of people in Ireland saying they had tried ecstasy during their lifetimes. Only the UK, where 10 per cent of people had tried the drug at some point, had a higher frequency. The European average was less than half of the Irish rate - at 4.1 per cent.

And the increase in MDMA use among young people in Ireland was much sharper than in any of the other 29 European countries. In 2011, for example, the number of people in Ireland aged 15 to 34 years who had used MDMA in the previous year was 1 per cent.

In 2015, that figure had jumped to 4.5 per cent; a very significant increase recorded as the drug was waning in popularity among young people in some other countries.

Similarly, more people in Ireland had tried cannabis as some point in their lifetime – 27.9 per cent – than most other European countries. Six countries of 30 had a higher lifetime prevalence than Ireland for cannabis use; France (44.8 per cent), Denmark (38.4 per cent), Spain (35.2 per cent), Italy (32.7 per cent), UK (30 per cent) and Czech Republic (28.6 per cent).

Some 13.8 per cent of young people in Ireland – aged 15 to 34 years – had smoked cannabis in the past year, compared to the European average of 14.4 per cent. However, the growth in popularity of the drug among young people was notably increasing in Ireland and Finland, the report states.

In relation to crack cocaine, Ireland, Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and the UK were the nations with an increased number of users seeking treatment since 2014.

Ireland also had the second highest number of high-risk opioid users with an estimated 6.1 to 7 per 1,000 people. The UK figure was an estimated 8.3-8.7 per 1,000.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times