COCAINE was a factor in the deaths of 217 people in Ireland over a three-year period between 2007 and 2009, according to new figures released to the Sunday Tribune.
Last year, the class-A drug played a role in the deaths of 80 people, according to data from the Central Statistics Office. Last year also recorded the highest number of cocaine-related deaths compared to the two previous years.
In 2008, 64 people's deaths were related to cocaine, while in 2007 there were 73 cocaine-related fatalities. Of the 217 deaths over the three years, cocaine was the sole cause of death in 124 cases. In the other 93 fatalities, cocaine was a factor leading to death.
The use of cocaine was at its highest at the turn of the century until around 2007, according to healthcare professionals and gardaí. The rise in popularity in legal highs, a cheaper alternative to cocaine, and the recession had an impact on the sale of cocaine from 2007 onwards.
Gardaí say there is still a significant amount of cocaine being sold in Ireland but its popularity has dwindled in the last three or four years due to several factors, among them the realisation by occasional users of the dangers of the drug, as well as its high cost.
However, while there may not be as much widespread abuse of cocaine at present compared to recent years, the number of deaths related to the drug were higher in 2009 than the two previous years.
Susan Collins, coordinator of Addiction Response Crumlin (Arc), said despite perceptions that cocaine had dramatically declined in popularity, treatment facilities were as busy as ever.
"The death of Gerry Ryan showed that it is still out there being used, particularly by the upper class. He was going through an addiction and it's terrible that he didn't feel confident enough to try and get help," she said.
"The cocaine problem has not gone away in Ireland. For people who use it, this needs to be a wake-up call that the only people who can help them are themselves."
Dr Chris Luke, a consultant in the emergency department at Mercy University Hospital Cork, said last week that A&E wards were continuing to deal with patients on a regular basis suffering ill effects – such as heart palpitations, panic attacks and severe agitation – as a result of taking cocaine.
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