Republic of Ireland in grip of ‘cocaine epidemic’

Cocaine has overtaken opioids as the biggest cause of illegal drug problems in Ireland, according to new research.

Health Research Board (HRB) figures show that since 2016 there has been a 259 per cent increase in the number of cases where cocaine is the main drug for which people are seeking treatment.

The HRB recently told the Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use that cocaine-related deaths more than doubled between 2017 and 2020.

Record rise

According to the HRB, there were more than 12,000 cases of treatment for drug use in 2022, the highest annual recorded figure to date.

The state funded body said: “Cocaine was the most common drug reported in 2022, accounting for 34.0% of all cases”, up more than a quarter on 2021.

“Cocaine was also the most common main drug among new cases in 2022, similar to the previous two years.”

Data came from the National Drug Treatment Reporting System, a national surveillance programme that records cases of drug and alcohol treatment in Ireland.


Psychiatrist and addiction specialist Professor Colin O’Gara said cocaine use was now a “public health crisis” and that the country appeared to be “in the middle of an epidemic of cocaine”.

Keith Cassidy, psychotherapist and Clinic Manager at the Smarmore Castle treatment centre for addiction, explained: “There isn’t a town that’s not affected. It’s pervasive across all aspects of society, from college students to someone who is unemployed to professionals.”

Nigel Salter, a consultant in emergency medicine at St Vincent’s University Hospital, warned HRB figures only recorded those receiving treatment and failed to capture a “significant and undefined number” of cocaine users.

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