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Expert says lockdown did not stop cocaine abuse with some users 'snorting' in garden shed

A new report from the Health Research Board (HRB) shows a spike in people seeking help for cocaine abuse

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Niall Donald

A leading addiction expert has claimed many cocaine users continued to abuse the drug in the family home during Ireland strict Covid lockdown.

Dr Garrett McGovern, from the Priory Medical Clinic, said there has been a huge increase in the number of Irish people coming forward for cocaine dependence over the last "five or six".

And he claimed the Covid restrictions, including the closure of nightclubs and pubs, did not stop users taking the drug.

Dr McGovern told Newstalk Breakfast that he knew of cases where men were "snorting" the drug in their garden shed.

Dr McGovern was speaking as a new report from the Health Research Board (HRB) showed Ireland now has the second-highest proportion in Europe of 15- to 24-year-olds who have used cocaine and ecstasy at least once.

"The amount of presentations over the last couple of years - and understandably so, cause people were holed up in the house - men going out to garden sheds away from their wife and kind of snorting away for the evening."

He added: "It's very, very grim".

The report also details an increase of more than 170 per cent in the number of young people treated for cocaine use between 2011 and 2019.

Dr Garrett McGovern said there has been a spike in the number of people seeking help for cocaine use.

"We're seeing an awful lot in frontline treatment services, a huge increase in people coming forward for treatment for cocaine dependence.

"Sometimes you're not sure whether there's an increase in actual use - or more of an increase in awareness about cocaine and its ill-effects, and the fact that there are treatment options out there.

"But I think there's no doubt that over the last number of years, probably over the last five or six years, there has been a huge increase in cocaine presenting for treatment - and particularly in young people".

The new HRB report also reveals how more than a third of young people who drink alcohol are engaged in “hazardous or harmful drinking”.

The number of hospital emergencies involving drunk or high 15-24 year olds has increased by 26 percent, with an increase of 83 per cent of these case also involving cocaine.

But Dr McGovern told Newstalk Breakfast that health messages are not reaching some young people.

"There's absolutely no question that our own relationship with alcohol has an effect on our children.

"We are very permissive about alcohol in this country, it's a real problem.

"We've had the introduction of minimum unit pricing which will help, it'll only go part of the way.

"I think we really need to look at, overall, the culture - this is going back, I'd like to say decades, possibly going back centuries.

"Even abroad we have a bit of a reputation as big drinkers in this country, and we sort of revel in it and laugh in it.

"But if you look at any Emergency Department in this country - and any hospital bed in this country - if you look at reasons why people are in hospital beds in this country.

"One of the risk factors for many of those illnesses in those beds is actually the relationship with alcohol."

He added: "But yet our message of prevention has been completely lost".

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