THE number of people seeking treatment for cocaine in Cork has almost trebled since 2016.
Last year, there were 234 people treated for addiction to cocaine as their main drug, in Cork. This is up from 80 in 2016.
Figures released by the Health Research Board show that the number last year had increased from 220 in 2019, 185 in 2018, 124 in 2017 and 80 in 2016.
Cocaine was the second most common problem drug reported nationally in 2020, behind opioids. The proportion of overall cases treated where cocaine was cited as the main issue increased from 8.6% in 2014 to 27% in 2020.
David Lane, coordinator of the Southern Regional Drug and Alcohol Taskforce, said that it is encouraging to see that people are willing to engage with treatment services for cocaine addiction.
He said that traditionally, cocaine was seen as a recreational drug, with users typically not believing they had a problem habit. He said: “We are encouraged to see that people are picking up the phone to seek help.”
The HRB report also highlighted that crack cocaine accounted for 15.8% of all cases treated where cocaine was cited as a main problem in 2020, compared to 14.3% in 2019.
Mr Lane said there have been “instances of its use across the region but not prominently.” However, he said: “We are likely to face challenges in relation to it in time to come.”
Senior addiction counsellor Mike Guerin of Cuan Mhuire, which has a treatment centre in Farnanes, said crack cocaine is something which is on the rise not just in cities but also in large provincial towns.
He said: “Going back two or three years ago, crack use started to emerge in Dublin, Limerick and Cork but now it is in provincial towns as well. The crack problem is born of the fact that people are snorting cocaine at every crossroads in the country.”
He added: “Our clients are telling us that it is widespread. Last year, more than half of our clients in Bruree at one point had tried crack.” And he said that clients attending Cuan Mhuire’s female centre in Farnanes have also highlighted their use of crack.
He continued: “People don’t understand that the addictive potential of crack cocaine is huge. People are hooked very quickly.”
In September 2019, The Echo revealed that users of the lethal drug are turning to treatment centres in Cork for help in tackling addiction to it.
Crack cocaine was rampant across the US in the 1980s, devastating communities and spiking crime in the affected areas. It is in the same family as cocaine but is more potent and more addictive. It has other street names, including rock, stone or free-base. It can be smoked or injected.
The Minister for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan said: "Strengthening early harm reduction responses to drug use, including cocaine and crack cocaine, is a key theme in the National Drugs Strategy.
"The national cocaine harm reduction campaign, launched in 2018, aims to raise awareness of the dangers of taking cocaine, emphasises the risks and dangers of cocaine use to at-risk groups, and those who engage in ‘recreational use’. These data will inform the allocation of the additional €1m funding for targeted drug and alcohol initiatives in conjunction with the Drug and Alcohol Task Forces in 2021".