WIDESCALE abuse of cocaine in Ireland remains a problem and the death of Gerry Ryan should serve as "yet another wake-up call" about the potential dangers of the drug.

People who work with drug users and the minister with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy have warned that despite perceptions that cocaine abuse in no longer a major issue, this is not the case.

Stephen Rowan, a specialist in addiction and former clinical director of the Rutland Centre, said cocaine was still devastating parts of Irish society.

"It would appear there is less cocaine being used in Ireland compared to a few years ago and we assume this is something to do with the recession. But the problem of drug addiction in Ireland has not gone away. We need to try and understand the devastating effect this is having on the families of people with drug addiction problems."

Pat Carey (pictured), the minster with responsibility for the drug strategy, said people who are considering experimenting with cocaine need to be aware of the dangers of mixing cocaine with alcohol, which produces cocaethylene in users' systems.

Cocaethylene affects the brain for longer and is more toxic than either drug alone. It heightens and intensifies the euphoric effect of cocaine, but also amplifies the depressive effect of alcohol. Gerry Ryan had a moderate amount of alcohol in his system at the time of his death as well as a small amount of cocaine. "The one message I want to reinforce now is the danger of mixing alcohol with cocaine; it is a dangerous cocktail. In some circles, cocaine became the alternative to a cheeseboard being passed around," he said.