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Study highlights extent of Irish cocaine problem
Irish Times 06/07/2005

By Joe Humphreys

Problems arising from cocaine use are particularly acute in inner-city Dublin, Cork and the north-east, a new study on the impact of the drug in Ireland suggests.

The study, compiled by a research team at Cluain Mhuire drug-treatment centre in Blackrock, Co Dublin, identified deficiencies in both the quantity and quality of treatment facilities.

It is noted that "frequently untrained or insufficiently trained staff" were delivering "an assorted mix of interventions, some of unproven benefit". The report is published today along with the deliberations of an Oireachtas committee which commissioned the study amid heightened concern about a "striking increase" in the abuse of cocaine in Ireland.

In its report the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs called for a more intensive drug-awareness campaign and increased resources for treatment services. It added that it would ask the Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, Noel Ahern, to appear before the committee "with a view to the speedy implementation of the recommendations".

The report said the committee members were "very conscious of the resource implications involved…But this is a very unique situation: the treatment of cocaine addiction comes under the umbrella of the mental health services - the most consistently underfunded area of health expenditure where the percentage of the total has fallen in recent years".

Committee chairwoman Cecilia Deaveney TD (FF) said she believed the problem could be handled most effectively in rural areas by creating substance abuse clinics which treated not just drug abuse but eating disorders and other addictions.

In their study Cluain Mhuire clinical director Dr Siobhan Barry and senior clinical psychologist Elizabeth Lawlor surveyed statutory drug-treatment services, along with a sample of voluntary and private treatment providers, to evaluate the extent of cocaine use and the availability of treatment options.

"Statutory service providers indicated that the largest numbers of those with a primary cocaine problem were in inner city Dublin and its immediate environs… A much lesser difficulty in relation to cocaine use was reported in the greater Dublin area commuter belt, and this lessened the farther away from Dublin one travelled. In these settings alcohol, cannabis, ecstasy and amphetamines tended to be the primary problem substance area. A considerable primary cocaine problem was reported, however, in the northeast and in the Cork area".

The study noted cocaine worth more than 500 million euros had been seized by gardai between 1995 and 2004, and this was believed to represent just one-tenth of the street market. It further cited a high level of ignorance about the effects of cocaine among its users.

"Suicide is the cause of death in up to 10 per cent of cocaine related deaths. Nevertheless there has been the perception that cocaine is a safe drug, and that it improves sports performance, notwithstanding the available evidence disproving this." Citing a deficiency in treatment options, the researchers said "tiered interventions" should be offered to problem cocaine users. "Residential (therapeutic community style) aftercare programmes that offer places of a number of months' duration should be available to those who are at particular risk of relapse." The publication of the report coincides with the launch this week of a new National Drugs Awareness Campaign aimed at highlighting the danger of mixing cocaine and alcohol.