Number of cocaine addicts seeking treatment nearly doubles since 2011

Problem cocaine use grows with improving economy, Health Research Board finds

The number of people seeking treatment for cocaine addiction increased by over 30 per cent in a year and almost doubled since 2011, figures published on Wednesday show.

The data indicates problem cocaine use is growing with the economy, said Dr Suzi Lyons, chief researcher with the Health Research Board (HRB) which is issuing the figures.

At the same time addiction to other drugs, including heroin and cannabis, appears to be falling.

A total of 1,500 people sought help for cocaine addiction in 2017 – an increase of 32 per cent from the 1,138 who sought help the previous year. Six years earlier, in 2011, the number was 770, some 94 per cent less.


Numbers seeking treatment for cocaine addiction fell to 666 in 2012 and increased slowly as the economic recovery began to 708 in 2013, to 853 in 2014 before increasing dramatically the following years to 1,026 in 2015 and 1,500 two years ago.

Employment likelihood

Cocaine users are more likely to be employed than the overall drug-using population. Some 33.5 per cent of those in treatment were employed compared with just 11 per cent of all drug users.

And the proportion of cocaine users in treatment who are employed has steadily increased since 2011 when just 19 per cent of cocaine users in treatment were working.

Cocaine users are also more likely to be male (81 per cent) than other drug users (72 per cent) and less likely to have ceased education before they were age 16 – 26 per cent compared with 35 per cent of all drug users in treatment in 2017.

Since 2015 numbers seeking help for any drug addiction fell – from 9,892 in 2015 to 8,922 in 2017.

Heroin and cannabis

Similarly numbers seeking help for heroin and cannabis addiction fell over this period, by 15 per cent and 21 per cent respectively.

The numbers presenting for treatment for the first time show similar divergences, going down for cannabis and opiate addition and up sharply for cocaine.

There has been a fall of 7 per cent in people presenting with problem cannabis use for the first time since 2011 – from 1,369 in 2011 to 1,272 in 2017; and a fall of 27 per cent in first-time problem opiate use, from 1,115 to 809.

First-time treatment for cocaine use grew by 88 per cent, from 396 people eight years ago to 748 in 2017, the HRB figures indicate.

A separate December 2018 report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction reports "surges in cocaine availability across global markets" since 2016. It says there is about a 12-year lag between first-time use of cocaine in Europe, at on average age 22, and seeking treatment.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times