New data from the Health Research Board (HRB) has found that cocaine use in Ireland has doubled since 2003, with more men aged between 25 and 34 using the drug than ever before.

Findings from the National Drug and Alcohol Survey 2019-20 also show increased use of illegal stimulants and continued high levels of binge drinking.

The survey interviewed 5,762 people aged 15 and over. It found that 7% of people have used an illegal drug in the past year, with those aged between 15 and 24 being most likely to report drug use.

Figures also showed that men were twice as likely as women to use drugs, with drug use among men aged between 25 and 34 rising from 9% in 2002-03 to 26% in 2019-20.

One of the most surprising findings was the wider range of drugs being used since the previous survey. 25% of those who used drugs in the last year reported using at least three different types, compared with 15% in 2014-15.

Cocaine usage increased “significantly”

Over the past five years, cocaine use has continued to increase. Men aged 25 to 34 were most likely to report cocaine use, rising from 2% in 2002-03 to 9% in 2019-20.

Data showed that 6.6% of respondents had used cocaine at least once in their lifetime – around 260,000 of the general population in Ireland.

The dangers of mixing

Dr Deirdre Mongan, research officer at the HRB and the lead author of the report, raised concerns about the rising use of illegal stimulants, and the mixing of alcohol with drugs.

“While there has been little change since the last survey in the number of people using drugs overall, what is notable is the rise in the use of illegal stimulants, particularly cocaine and amphetamines, as well as an increase in the use of LSD and poppers,” Dr Mongan said.

The new study revealed that nine out of ten people who used cocaine in the last year also used alcohol at the same time.

Dr Mongan added: “Mixing drugs or polydrug use, particularly alcohol and cocaine, is a real concern because it can result in greater physical harm.”

The report warned that rates of harmful drinking remain high, with two in five drinkers engaging in monthly binge drinking sessions. Worryingly, the report also revealed that one in five drinkers meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder.

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