COCAINE CRISIS Young Irish rank in EU top five for cocaine use as drug hits 'unprecedented level'
Ireland has one of the highest numbers of cocaine users among young people in the EU, a report into drug trends shows.
The study also found it is the second-most common drug in the country after cannabis.
The European Drug Report 2020: Trends and Developments found Ireland was joint-fifth highest for cocaine use among young people in a 12-month period.
Figures for here, which the EU report says are from 2015, show 2.9pc of persons aged between 15 and 34 used cocaine in the previous year.
The figure is lower than the UK, where 5.3pc of young people had taken the class-A drug in the previous year.
Eight of the countries surveyed, which include the 27 member states as well as Turkey and Norway, reported prevalence of cocaine use among young people at 2.5pc or more.
The report by the EU drugs agency, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), also found Ireland has the joint third-highest rate of drug-induced deaths, with 72 cases per million of the population.
It said cocaine availability across the continent has reached an "unprecedented level", with purity of the drug on the increase while prices remain stable.
In 2018, a record 181 tonnes of cocaine were seized in Eur-ope, a significant increase from the 138 tonnes seized the previous year.
The study also included early analysis of how the Covid-19 pandemic has been affecting local and international drug networks.
It found there was an increase in online sales through dark markets, "with drug distributors adapting their methods" and conducting fewer face-to-face deals.
The EU drugs agency said that, initially, the use of drug couriers travelling on commercial airlines and other forms of public transport was disrupted by the pandemic.
However, they noted that there did not appear to be any major impact on criminal gangs who rely on the movement of commercial goods through methods such as shipping containers.
Concerns have also been raised about organised crime groups exploiting the fact that law enforcement resources are being directed toward Covid-19 prevention activities.
Innovations to maintain drugs networks during the pandemic may also cause future issues, the report noted.
A breakdown of the report by the Irish Health Research Board (HRB) found 2,560 people entered treatment for cocaine issues last year, with cocaine cases increasing from 7.9pc in 2013 to 24pc in 2019.
This made it the second- most common drug after cannabis and ahead of opioids.
The HRB also pointed out that cannabis resin and herb are now around twice as strong as they were a decade ago, while heroin seizures have doubled and it is now being produced in Europe.
"The latest European drug report highlights the serious challenges created by illicit drugs and the overall strength of substances including high-potency cannabis," said Frank Feighan, the Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy.
"As minister with responsibility for the national drug strategy, I am committed to strengthening early harm reduction responses to trends and patterns of drug use in Ireland.
"The report reviews the impact of the pandemic on drug use and the most vulnerable in society, which is an issue we have become very familiar with.
"As part of Ireland's response to Covid-19, resource documents were developed to ensure all people in receipt of opioid substitute treatment could continue safely with their treatment during the pandemic."