Cocaine: upsurge in use

IRELAND has one of the highest cocaine death rates in Europe, according to a major report by the United Nations on drug use.

The 2010 World Drugs Report found that cocaine usage in Ireland reached virtually epidemic proportions over the past decade. An analysis of drug death figures by the UN discovered that Ireland's cocaine deaths per 100,000 population was running at one stage at 0.77, the second highest recorded figure in the European Union, only exceeded by Portugal.

In the year 2005, for instance, a total of 159 people died of drug overdoses or other complications in Ireland. Thirty-four of these had taken cocaine.

The UN said there had been an appreciable rise in the number of people using cocaine right across Western Europe.

The report said: "Cocaine use appears to be concentrated in a few countries in Europe, notably in Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Ireland and Denmark where high cocaine use prevalence rates are observed.

"Use of cocaine is reportedly high among young males between 15 and 34 years old. Low prevalence countries in the EU remain Romania, Greece, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic."

The sheer volume of cocaine being imported into Ireland had also led to much higher numbers seeking treatment for addiction.

The report said: "The number of clients entering drug treatment with cocaine as the primary drug has been increasing in recent years.

"Between 2002 and 2007, the largest proportional increases among new clients were reported by Spain, Ireland and Italy. In those countries, the number of all clients entering treatment citing cocaine as their primary drug increased as a proportion from 13% to 19%."

Ironically, the upsurge in cocaine use appeared to have been mirrored by a decline in the number of people smoking cannabis.

The UN report said that there had been a "noticeable" decline in the number of teenagers who said they regularly used cannabis.

The use of heroin in Ireland was above average, according to the statistical survey, which found that one in 200 adults (0.5%) used "opiates".

That was three times as many abusers as were found somewhere like Sweden but in Scotland, heroin use was found in 1.5% of adults.

In terms of cocaine, 1.7% of the Irish population were thought to be using the drug at least once a year, according to the UN survey.

That compared poorly with many European countries including the Netherlands, which despite its reputation reported cocaine use amongst only 0.6% of people.

The cocaine problem was however, far more pronounced in the UK where 3% of people in England and Wales and 3.9% of Scots used the drug.

Cannabis use in Ireland was slightly below average when compared to the rest of the EU with 6.3% of adults saying they smoked the drug.

In Italy by comparison, a massive 14.6% of people aged 15-64 were reported to smoke the drug compared to just 5.4% in the Netherlands, where use of the drug has been decriminalised.