National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol

The NACDA was established in response to the drug problem to assist in our continued need to improve our knowledge and understanding of problem drug use.

The goal of the NACDA is to advise the Government on problem drug use in Ireland in relation to prevalence, prevention consequences and treatment based on our analysis and interpretation of research findings.

Nearly half of Cocaine users get drug from family and friends. Increase in cocaine use in Ireland since 2002/2003

Final release: 11.30am, Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The number of people who reported ever using any form of cocaine for lifetime prevalence in Ireland has increased from 3% of the population in 2002/3 to 5.3% in 2006/7.

The most common way of obtaining cocaine remained through family and friends; however the percentage of people obtaining the drug in this manner increased from 33% in 2002/3 to 49% in 2006/7 significantly among women from 24% in 2002/3 to 70% in 2006/7.

The information is contained in Bulletin 4 2006/7 Drug Prevalence Survey: Cocaine Results, released today by John Curran, T.D., Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy. 

This is the second All Ireland Drugs Prevalence Survey, following that commissioned in 2002/3 by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) in Ireland and the Public Health Information and Research Branch (PHIRB) of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland. Bulletin 4 also examined cocaine use in relation to age of first use, regular use of cocaine, reasons for stopping use, method of taking it, where it is obtained, ease of obtaining, attitudinal information, perceptions of risk attached to trying the drug and gives a profile of cocaine users.

Launching the report, Minister Curran welcomed the results stating “the results now available give us comparative figures to monitor trends in cocaine use across the population for the first time. The availability of a regional breakdown of data will help us target interventions more effectively. The challenge is to ensure that the lower rates are kept at such levels while the problem is tackled comprehensively in the areas of higher use.”

“I take this opportunity to emphasise the risks to the physical and mental health of any person using cocaine, risks that are often ignored or underestimated by users.  Cocaine use is linked to heart conditions, strokes and to various other physical complaints that vary depending on the route of administration of the drug. Frequent use of cocaine can also have a powerful effect on the user’s mental health, through depression, anxiety and paranoia.” 

“Apart from damaging themselves, users cause social and economic harm to their families and to the communities that bear the brunt of the behaviour and criminal activity associated with the supply and use of cocaine.”

Key findings:

  • Nearly 1 in 4 respondents (23%) personally know someone who takes cocaine
  • Cocaine powder (5% lifetime use) accounted for the majority of reported use, only 0.6% reported lifetime crack use among all respondents.
  • Prevalence rates among young adults were three times those of older adults (8.2% compared to 2.7%) respectively for cocaine powder and/or crack combined.
  • Male respondents reported higher prevalence rates for cocaine powder and/or crack combined than females across all time periods. The lifetime prevalence rate for males (7%) was double the rate for females (3.5%).
  • The average age respondents reported that they had first used cocaine powder was 22 years (22 for males and 21 for females). The average age of first regular use of cocaine powder was 20 years (21 for males and 20 for females).
  • All current cocaine powder users reported ‘snorting’ the drug.The period of time between first using cocaine and becoming regular users (lag) was just one year across gender and age groups.
  • Those in social grade C1 had higher than expected lifetime and last year cocaine use. 

Some differences of note since the last survey are:

  • As in 2002/3 the majority obtained cocaine powder from family or friends (33% in 2002/3 and 49% in 2006/7 with a significant increase among females from 24% to 70%.
  • An increase in current users (last month use) reporting use of cocaine at least once per week (4-9 days) from 16.6 % in 2002/3 compared to 24.6% in 2006/7.
  • 7% of current cocaine users reported daily use in 2006/7 whereas no-one reported daily use in 2002/3.
  • More than twice as many females obtained cocaine powder in a disco/bar/club in 2006/7 (50%) compared to 20% in 2002/3.
  • A larger proportion of older adults obtained cocaine powder in the house of friends in 2006/7 (82%) than in 2002/3 (28%).
  • Fewer people reported regular use of cocaine powder (14%) in 2006/7 than in 2002/3 (19%).
  • More people tried to stop and failed (10%) in 2006/7 than in 2002/3 (7%).
  • 8.5% reported stopping as part of a rehab programme, fewer people reported cost as a motivating factor in stopping use.
  • The proportions reporting knowledge of risk or harm attached to trying cocaine or crack once or twice has not changed in the last four years for those who had used the drug.
  • However, for those who had never used cocaine there was a statistically significant drop (from 87% in 2002/3 to 83% in 2006/7) in the proportion reporting ‘great risk’ with trying cocaine.  This was surprising.
  • A significant increase since 2002/3 from 14% to 23% in those who personally know someone who takes cocaine.

Minister Curran continued: “Overall, I believe that huge efforts are being made from the ground up to tackle problem drug use in what is an ever-evolving global situation. Government is committed to prioritising the drugs issue, a point illustrated by the allocation of over €61m to this area in the Estimates for my Department last week. This forms part of a total of over €200m allocated by Government on measures aimed directly at problem drug use.”

The Minister added, “The challenges posed by cocaine use are significant, but I am confident that we can meet these challenges through a co-ordinated approach utilising the structures of the National Drugs Strategy.  The current Strategy is being assessed at present with a view to finalising proposals for a new strategy for the period 2009 – 2016. 

Commenting on the findings, Dr. Des Corrigan, Chairperson of the NACD, said that “This report reinforces the complexity of drug taking behaviour. As we expected given the  NACD/NDST report in 2007 on Cocaine use in Ireland, more people in 2006/7; 23% of those surveyed reported that they personally knew someone who took cocaine compared to just 14% in 2002/3.  This reflects the spread of cocaine use as reported last year.”

“The results also revealed an increase in the frequency of using cocaine powder since 2002/2003, with one-in-four current cocaine powder users using the drug at least once a week and the majority of current cocaine powder users (68%) took the drug less than once a week. Whereas no-one reported daily use in 2002/3, 7% of current users reported daily use in 2006/2007.”

This report highlights the significant changes which have occurred since the first survey in 2002/3 and confirms that cocaine use is a nationwide problem. There is therefore a need for a sustained commitment to tackle the problem in the years ahead.”

Dr. Corrigan added that the results from this prevalence survey show the need to continue to monitor changes in patterns of drug use among the general population. “Continued use of this type of survey is essential in picking up trends over time.  Such general population surveys, which give a snapshot in time of what is happening in relation to drug use in the lives of ordinary households, can only realistically be conducted every four years or so.” he concluded.

Please note the full details of the research are available on the NACD website at


Annmarie Brennan, Montague Communications, 01 830 3116 / 086 260 5896
Ronan Cavanagh, Montague Communications, 01 830 3116 / 086 317 9731

Notes to the Editor


Lifetime prevalence = respondent(s) had ever used a drug
Recent use = respondent(s) used drug in the year prior to the survey
Current use = respondent(s) used drug in the month prior to the survey

Survey Methodology

The NACD repeated the National Drug Prevalence Survey last year and produced National Prevalence figures in Bulletin 1 in January 2008. This survey is a joint venture with colleagues in the Public Information and Health Research Branch (PHIRB) formerly the Drug and Alcohol Research Information Unit (DAIRU) within the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland. On this occasion, the fieldwork was carried out by Ipsos MORI in Ireland and by the Central Survey Unit of the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency in Northern Ireland. 

A total number of 6,969 people aged 15-64 were surveyed on the island of Ireland 4,967 in Ireland and 2,002 in Northern Ireland) between October 2006 and May 2007. A response rate of 65% was achieved in Ireland and 62% in Northern Ireland. Using the most recent census data, the sample was weighted by gender, age and former Health Board area in Ireland because these equate to the current Regional Drugs Task Force areas and to ensure that the results are representative of the general population to the maximum extent possible.  The survey was carried out to the exacting standards set by the EU Drugs Agency (the EMCDDA).

The same methodology was used as in the original 2002/3 survey differing only in the use of Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) on this occasion instead of pen and paper interviews. This is more cost effective and provides higher quality control on data. The questionnaire & the methodology used represent best practice as outlined by the EU’s Drugs Agency, the EMCDDA based in Lisbon. Only changes that are statistically significant at the 5% level at least are reported in the comparisons section for each jurisdiction and time period of use (lifetime, last year and last month).

Regional Drugs Task Force Areas

The National Drugs Strategy has established 10 Regional Drugs Task Forces areas since 2000. Their boundaries corresponded with the former Health Board areas. Since January 2005 the Health Boards in Ireland have undergone restructuring and are merged under one authority – the Health Service Executive. However, for the purpose of comparison with 2002/3 data, we have continued to weight the data by the former Health Board areas but named the areas by Regional Drugs Task Force (RDTF). The reference for the 2002/2003 data is: Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland 2002/2003 Drug Prevalence Survey – Health Board (Ireland) & Health and Social Services Board (Northern Ireland) Results (Revised) June, 2005. Bulletin 2.  Results from 2006/7 have been published by RDTF area: Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland 2006/2007 Drug Prevalence Survey – Regional Drugs Task Force & Health and Social Services Board (Northern Ireland) Results June, 2008.

Heroin and Crack Cocaine Use

The population survey is a drug prevalence survey and is intended to reflect drug use in the general population as a whole.  For the purposes of this survey, we take the general population to mean those aged 15-64 and normally residing in households in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It does not include those residing in institutions such as prisons, residential care, nursing homes, hospitals etc. 

Problematic drug users may be underrepresented in this type of survey because of the complicated and problematic nature of their lives. Other methodologies are used to establish information on hidden populations of problematic drug use such as those using heroin and crack cocaine.  Examples include:

  • The capture recapture study on problem opiate use published by the NACD in 2003 (title: Prevalence of Opiate Use in Ireland 2000-2001 A 3-Source Capture Recapture Study) provided estimates of heroin use in Ireland (this study is also being repeated).
  • Treatment demand indicators such as the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (managed by the Health Research Board). 

Note: NDST refers to the National Drugs Strategy Team

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