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.

Reserach on cocaine use in Ireland and Northern Ireland

ISSUE DATE: Thursday, 12 January 2006

MEDIA CONTACT: Jane O’Dwyer, Montague Communications, 086 6491408 or tel. 01 8303116

The fourth bulletin from the first major survey on drug use in Ireland, published by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD), finds that over one in thirty people (3%) have used cocaine at some point in their life, 1.1% in the last year and 0.3% in the last month. Twice as many men (4%) as women (2%) reported using the drug at least once in their lives, and lifetime use among young people aged between 15 and 34 (4.7%) was more than three times the rate of use among those aged between 35 and 64 (1.4%).

These findings are amongst the key results contained in Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland 2002/2003 Drug Prevalence Survey: Cocaine Results Bulletin 4 launched today (Thursday, 12 January 2006) by Mr Noel Ahern, T.D., Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

According to the survey, the average age at which respondents first used cocaine is 20 for men and 21 for women. The survey also finds that for those who became regular users, the period of time between first using cocaine and becoming a regular user was only one year.

Minister Noel Ahern TD commented;

“The findings of this survey confirm that cocaine is becoming a drug of choice for many young people. The findings contributed to the rationale for the targeted two-phased multi-media Cocaine Awareness Campaign. This Campaign, managed by the Health Promotion Unit as part of the National Drugs Strategy, targeted young people aged 18-35 years and focused on the dangers and consequences of cocaine use. Furthermore, substance misuse prevention programmes are now on all school curricula throughout the country.”

He added that the use of cocaine would appear to be related to a perception among some people that it is a ‘safe drug’.

“Such perceptions are false and dangerous and need to be countered”, he said. “We need to get this message across and media awareness campaigns and education are only one way of doing that. There also needs to be a sustained effort from all responsible commentators to counter the glamorous perception that some people have of cocaine.”

One in five (19%) people surveyed who said that they had ever taken cocaine said that they had used it regularly. Of these, 62% said they had stopped using cocaine for a variety of reasons but the main reason (42%) for quitting related to cost. After cost, the other main reasons for quitting included: not wanting to take it anymore (35%); due to health concerns (32%); being persuaded by friends and family (32%); and its impact on their job, friends and family (22%).

The survey provides insights into the social context in which the drug is used. Over three quarters of recent users (used in the last year) obtained their drugs from someone known to them. Only 8% bought the drug from a contact not known to them personally or accepted the drug from a stranger. The majority of current users (83%) took cocaine less than once a week.

Commenting on these particular findings, Dr. Des Corrigan, Chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) said, “Similar to the findings in Bulletin 3 on cannabis, this information contradicts the popular view of the dealer as someone completely unknown to the user.”

Commenting on the fact that only 32% of regular users who quit cocaine did so due to health concerns in comparison to 42% who did so due to the cost of the drug, Dr Corrigan said, “Whatever the impetus to quit, people should be aware of the serious health risks associated with cocaine use including chest pain, strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure, addiction and irrational violence due to paranoia. Research has shown that cocaine is capable of producing severe psychological dependence because of the strong cravings it produces leading to compulsive patterns of use. In addition, tolerance then results in higher doses and more frequent use of the drug. Long-term use is associated with enlargement of the heart and excessive doses can cause death through heart failure or lung damage. Given that the drug when combined with alcohol produces another substance in the body called cocaethylene – more toxic than either drug alone - people must be made aware of these very serious health risks”.

In presenting the findings to the Minister of State, Mairéad Lyons, Director of the NACD stated that “this is the first time we have such detailed baseline information available at a population level on issues such as regular use of cocaine, reasons for quitting, how and where the drug was obtained together with attitudinal information towards cocaine use. Given the lag time of one year before some people become regular users of cocaine, and the numbers of people reporting that they have tried the drug, we anticipate a continued increase in the numbers of young people seeking treatment for cocaine as their main problem drug in the near future. According to the Health Research Board, the number of people seeking treatment for cocaine use as their main problem drug increased by over 400% between 1998 (83) and 2003 (308).”

Additional key findings from the survey include:

  • Nearly all respondents who had never used cocaine (87%) compared to three in five (58%) of those who had ever used cocaine, felt there was a great risk associated with use of the drug;
  • The average age respondents who used the drug regularly, first used cocaine was 19 years for males and 21 for females;
  • Cocaine use was much higher in the three former health board areas around Dublin than in other areas (former East Coast Area Health Board (6%), former Northern Area Health Board (5%) and former South Western Area Health Board (5%)) confirming anecdotal evidence that cocaine use is primarily an urban problem;
  • Over four fifths (83%) of current users said they snorted cocaine or “did a line”;
  • According to recent users of cocaine, one third (33%) had been given the drug by family or friends; almost one fifth (19%) had shared the drug amongst friends; and one quarter (25%) had bought the drug from a friend;
  • Over half of recent users (52%) said they had obtained cocaine at the house of a friend whilst 38% had obtained it at a disco/ club/ bar and 11% said they had obtained it in the street or park.
  • The majority of recent users (68%) considered if ‘very easy’ or ‘fairly easy’ to obtain cocaine within a 24 hour period.
  • The survey indicated no association between socio-economic group and cocaine use on a lifetime, last year or last month basis, indicating that cocaine use crosses all social classes.


Notes to the Editor

The general population survey was undertaken by MORI MRC in 2002/2003 on the island of Ireland on behalf of the NACD and their collaborating partner the Drug and Alcohol Information and Research Unit (DAIRU) in Northern Ireland.
A total number of 8,434 people aged 15-64 were surveyed by MORI MRC on behalf of the NACD and DAIRU (4,918 in Ireland and 3,516 in Northern Ireland) between October 2002 and April 2003. A response rate of 70% was achieved. Using the most recent census data, the sample was weighted by gender, age and Health Board (Health and Social Services Board area in Northern Ireland), to maximise its representativeness of the general population.

The aim of this drug prevalence survey is to establish the extent and pattern of drug use in the general population; first drug prevalence findings were produced in Bulletin 1, (published October 2003 and revised in June 2005 for Ireland, Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. Bulletin 2, published in April 2004 and revised in June 2005 released the drug prevalence findings by health board area in Ireland and health and social services board area in Northern Ireland. Bulletin 3, published in October 2005 focuses on Cannabis Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Bulletin 4, published today (12 January 2006) focuses on Cocaine Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland and provides detailed information on the age of first use, regular use, method of taking cocaine, ease of obtaining cocaine, reasons for stopping use, perceptions of risk and a profile of cocaine users.

Crack cocaine and heroin 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, hence the term general population. Other methodologies are used to establish information on hidden populations of problematic drug use such as crack and heroin. 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. The population survey does not pick up this cohort because problematic drug users due to the nature of addiction are likely to be either out using drugs, homeless, in prison, in a hospital or in residential care. Treatment demand indicators such as the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (managed by the Health Research Board) reflect the problem nature of drug addiction is that people are reported as having sought treatment for their drug use.

About the NACD and DAIRU

The NACD was established in July 2000 to advise the Irish Government in relation to the prevalence, prevention, treatment / rehabilitation and consequences of problem drug use in Ireland, based on the analysis of research findings and information. The NACD is overseeing the delivery of a work programme on the extent, nature, causes and effects of drug use in Ireland. The NACD comprises representatives nominated from relevant agencies and sectors, both statutory and non-statutory. The NACD reports to the Minister of State responsible for the National Drugs Strategy. The NACD has published several reports which are available on the website. Further information can be obtained from the website:

The DAIRU was established in May 2001 to develop and manage a programme of information and research work in support of the joint implementation of the Northern Ireland Executive’s Drug and Alcohol Strategies, building on previous work to support the Drug Strategy alone. Both strategies highlight the need for detailed information on drug use and drinking patterns and behaviours in order to effectively target policy and practice. DAIRU is also involved in the evaluation of projects and initiatives funded through the Drug Strategy, management and development of the Northern Ireland Drug Misuse Database and dissemination of available information. DAIRU is located within the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Further information can be obtained from the DHSSPS website:

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