Majority of cocaine users not addicted, report says
By Cormac O'Keeffe
THE vast majority of people who have taken cocaine do not progress and become regular users, according to a new report.
But nearly a fifth of those who dabble with the drug are using it roughly once a week, risking serious health effects.
The report, published by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD), also highlighted differences between men and women. Men are almost three times more likely to have tried cocaine than women, while regular cocaine use is an exclusively male preserve.
Male users said they last got cocaine in a friend's house or in a club, while female users either got it in a friend's house or ordered it by phone.
The survey, originally conducted in 2002/2003, found that 3% of 15- to 64-year-olds had taken cocaine at least once. This fell to 1.1% for usage within the past year and 0.3% for usage within the past month.
Usage among 15-34 years olds was higher, with figures of 4.7%, 2% and 0.7% for each of the same time periods.
More detailed information from that survey, published in yesterday's report, showed that 83% of cocaine users took it less than once a week. Almost 17% said they used it around once a week, sometimes more. No-one reported taking the drug any more than 10 times within the past month.
Of those who had taken the drug regularly, more than 60% said they had stopped taking it.
The main reasons were cost (42%), not wanting to take it anymore (35%), health concerns (32%) and persuaded by friends or family to stop (32%).
Some 7% of regular users said they had tried to quit but failed.
NACD chairman Dr Des Corrigan said: "The vast majority of illegal drug taking is experimental. Not everyone who takes a drug becomes addicted and becomes a regular user, the vast majority don't. The problem with any drug, particularly a drug as seductive as cocaine, is that it can change very rapidly. Also, the more people who experiment, the greater the number of casualties."
He said 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."
He said when cocaine is combined with alcohol - a common combination - a new drug called cocaethylene is produced, which is more toxic than both drugs.
NACD director Máiréad Lyons said the number of people receiving treatment for cocaine as their main problem drug increased by over 400% between 1998 and 2003 from 83 to 308.
* More than three-quarters of users get the drug from someone they know.
* Cocaine usage is significantly higher in the greater Dublin area.
* People with a higher level of education report higher levels of cocaine use.
* Nearly 60% of users said cocaine posed a "great risk."