Cocaine use in Ireland the same as Europe

The labelling of cocaine use in Ireland as an epidemic is an exaggeration
By Emma Browne


Blanket media coverage in recent weeks has suggested that Ireland is in the grip of a cocaine epidemic. A Prime Time Investigates programme found residue of cocaine in 92 per cent of toilets they tested. There are reports of widespread use of the drug among young people and regular reports of record drug seizures of cocaine by the Gardaí. However amongst all this coverage there has been little reference to studies conducted into cocaine use in Ireland, and their findings.


A report published by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) in March of this year found that 3 per cent of the adult population (15-64 year olds) have used cocaine powder at sometime in their lives. A higher number of 15-34 year olds had used the drug – 4.7 per cent. Ireland is no different to the rest of Europe in this regard.

Every year the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction publishes a report on drug use in European countries. The last year that Ireland appeared in it was 2006. The 2006 report showed that 3 per cent of all adults in the EU have used cocaine. By 2007 this had risen to 4 per cent. And much the same as in Ireland's experience, in the 15-24 year age group the proportion is higher.

In the report Ireland came fifth for cocaine use out of 21 EU countries monitored. Spain, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Italy have a higher use of cocaine than Ireland. The countries with the lowest cocaine consumption were Greece and the Czech Republic.


Cocaine consumption in the United Kingdom and Spain are much higher than Ireland. In Spain 5.9 per cent of the population have used the drug once and in the United Kingdom 6.1 per cent have.

In Spain 8.9 per cent of 15- to 34-year-olds had used the drug compared to 10.5 in the United Kingdom. This is double the Irish figure.


Although there has been a rise in the number and quantity of cocaine seized, it still only represents a small proportion of drugs seized. In 2000 12 cocaine seizures were reported by Customs and Excise. This had risen to 46 in 2005. However the total number of seizures in 2005 was 1,223. According to the National Laboratory the average purity has fallen slightly, from an average of 41 per cent in 1999 to 31 per cent in 2005.

According to the EU monitoring centre there has been a normal trend in other EU countries of a increase in cocaine use and then a stabilisation. The United Kingdom, Spain and Germany all had sharp increases in cocaine use in the 1990s but then it stabilised out.


However the NACD report concluded that “cocaine use has increased slightly among the general population since 1999”. This is in contrast to the picture being portrayed in recent weeks.


Graph showing consumption of cocaine by percentage of population in Europe. Click Graph to enlarge