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[Health Service Executive] Cocaine – Reduce the harms. (17 Jul 2018)

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In light of an upward trend in cocaine use and cocaine-associated deaths in Ireland, a new campaign has been developed by the Ana Liffey Drug Project (ALDP) and the HSE to raise awareness about the dangers of using cocaine (powder and crack), and how to reduce the harms associated with snorting, smoking or injecting cocaine. The campaign was launched today, Tuesday 17th July, by Minister Catherine Byrne.


Cocaine is more available and at its highest purity in Europe today than it has been in a decade. It is the most commonly used illicit stimulant drug in Europe, and Ireland ranks fourth highest in EU for use of cocaine among young adults. In fact, 3 out of 10 Irish people aged 15-64 state that they have used illicit drugs in their lifetime (cannabis, MDMA or cocaine).


While it is always safest not to take unknown or illicit drugs at all, if a person chooses to take cocaine they are urged to follow the following harm-reduction advice:


If you decide to use cocaine, remember:

  1. When buying, know your source and avoid using alone
  2. Use one drug at a time and never mix with alcohol
  3. Start with a small test dose and leave at least 2 hours between use
  4. Grind cocaine to remove clumps, use your own sterile straw and never share
  5. Carry a condom – cocaine can increase your sex drive

If you decide to use crack, remember:

  1.  Avoid using homemade crack pipes and don’t share your pipe
  2. Avoid smoking the full rock
  3. If injecting, start low and go slow to avoid overdose
  4. If you feel low after using, seek professional help
  5. If you or a friend feels suicidal immediately go to a hospital or call 112.


Risks are greatly increased if cocaine is used in combination with other substances, including alcohol.


Almost all deaths (93%) where cocaine was implicated involved other drugs in 2015. Cocaine and alcohol combine in the body to produce cocaethylene, which increases the risk of organ damage. It also increases the risk of epilepsy, suicide, violence, accidents and sudden death.


Minister of State for Health Promotion & the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne, welcomed the #DoYouUseCocaine campaign:


“This is a very important campaign, focusing on providing information and raising awareness about cocaine among drug users and health professionals. 


Recent figures which show an increase in those seeking treatment for cocaine use is of real concern. This evidence supports what we are hearing from some services on the ground that cocaine use, and in particular crack cocaine use, is on the rise. I therefore welcome this new campaign which I believe will play a vital role in communicating the risks and dangers of cocaine use to dependent users and at risk groups, as well as to those who engage in recreational use. 


Through our national drugs strategy, ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery’, we are working to strengthen early harm reduction responses to current and emerging trends and patterns of drug use, which would benefit people who use drugs, their families and the community.” 


Research indicates that regular club goers and people that are part of the club/dance music scene have higher rates of drug use compared to the general population. This awareness campaign will target clubs and public event spaces, colleges and addiction services with information about cocaine powder.


Drug services, clinics and Drug & Alcohol Task Forces will be targeted with information about crack. Since 2017, a number of communities have reported seeing an increase in crack use, and more people are presenting with crack as their drug of choice. It is reported that the price of crack in Dublin City has reduced (€20-€25 per rock), meaning that it is therefore more accessible to people who couldn’t have otherwise afforded it.


Cocaine remains the third most common drug reported among people presenting to treatment in Ireland. In 2016, 12.3% of cases reported problem cocaine use, the highest proportion since 2010. Since 2014 there has been a steady increase in the proportion of new cases for treatment reporting cocaine as a main problem drug in Ireland, rising from a low of 297 cases in 2013 to 568 cases in 2016.


Irish data shows an increase in cocaine-related deaths during Ireland’s economic boom years and a decrease following the recessionary period.  Following a decline in cocaine-related deaths from 2008-2012, figures began to rise again in 2013 and in 2015 there were 44 deaths recorded.


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