GARDAÍ in Cork are warning that teenagers are distributing drugs for dealers to pay off debts they've accumulated from cocaine use.
Gardai and treatment providers in Cork say that cocaine is rampant on the city's streets, as a report from the Health Research Board highlights a 50% increase in the number of people seeking treatment for cocaine use in Ireland in the past year.
More than 2,200 people have presented for cocaine treatment in Ireland in the past 12 months.
A garda spokesman said: “Cocaine is now predominant on the streets.”
Gardai say that the drug is being used by people in all sections of society and is no longer confined to professionals with disposable income, as was the case during the Celtic Tiger.
Mike Guerin of Cuan Mhuire treatment centre said young people in their late teens and early 20s are presenting for treatment for addiction to the drug, having started using it in their mid-teens.
He said: “Cocaine use is bordering on epidemic proportions and has transcended the urban/rural divide. What has happened is that now that money is back, cocaine has taken off with a ferocity that nobody foresaw.
"One of the things that dealers have been doing is that they are trying to draw in adolescent users who do not have the finance for it.
"They are recruiting them to distribute the drug for them, or else they have to resort to crime to pay for it. Last time around, cocaine was a party drug used 'recreationally'.
“We have people coming to us in their early 20s who have been abusing cocaine since the age of 14 years old.”
In recent months, gardaí from the Cork North Roads Policing Unit highlighted that cannabis and cocaine are the most common drugs detected in cases of drug driving.
In June, two men were arrested in Cork city in connection with an incident in which cocaine was used on board a train from Dublin.