Date Published: 22 October 2008

Proactive approach to tackle crack cocaine in Ireland

Health News from Ireland (Eire)

A new HRB report published on Wednesday 22 October 2008 provides the evidence base for a proactive strategy to tackle crack cocaine use in Ireland. The report shows that the number of people using crack cocaine in Ireland remains low, with current users representing just 1% of drug users who present for treatment and 0.1% of the general population.

Trends in other countries, such as the UK, show rapid growth in the use of crack cocaine once the market is established. The report indicates that, despite garda interventions, crack use and availability has spread throughout the Dublin region.

Launching the report, John Curran, Minister of State with special responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy and Community Affairs said:

"It is good news that the crack cocaine market has not taken hold in Ireland to the extent it has in other countries. However, this report highlights the need to remain vigilant to ensure that this remains the case. The HRB report provides a very clear picture of the nature and extent of the use of crack cocaine in Ireland and the consequences it has for users, families and society. The report will be central to the development of a timely, strategic response through the new National Drugs Strategy which is being developed for 2009-2016".

The report highlights a number of factors explaining the emergence of crack use in Ireland. These include an increased availability of powder cocaine; heroin users returning to Dublin from Europe who have previously used crack and the arrival of non-Irish crack dealers, with the skills to prepare crack cocaine, along with access to cocaine supply routes, possibly in West Africa.

The profile of the crack user that is emerging is predominantly male, aged 20 – 29 years of age, homeless, a former or current opiate user and usually out of work. A number of service providers reported that there may be a proportion of younger, crack cocaine users who binge on crack cocaine but do not engage with treatment services for a variety of reasons.

According to Tony Gregory TD;

"When crack cocaine emerged in the North Inner City in 2005, it raised considerable concern locally, particularly given the historic impact of the heroin problem in the area and the reputation that crack has in other countries in terms of its impact on local communities. Through the auspices of the North Inner City Community Policing Forum, we established the Inter-Sectoral Crack Cocaine Strategy Group (ISCCSG), to take a multi-agency and community focused approach. We realised the need to respond quickly based on a clear and objective analysis of the problem. Inviting the HRB to provide this evidence-based report on the crack situation was a vital first step".

The HRB conducted the research over a nine-month period using a rapid situation assessment technique developed by the World Health Organization. This involved a multi-method approach which brings together existing research, drug treatment and criminal justice data, supported by interviews with key informants such as drug users, gardaí, outreach workers and treatment specialists. This provided an in-depth picture in a relatively short timeframe. Key findings are highlighted at the end of this release.

Johnny Connolly, criminologist and researcher at the HRB said;

"Drug-distribution systems adapt quickly so that, where drug suppliers have been arrested, they will quickly be replaced. For example, Operation Clean Street was regarded as a success from a law-enforcement point of view, leading to over 1,100 individual convictions for supply of heroin. However, such operations can lead to the displacement of drug activity to other locations around the city".

International evidence indicates that effective intervention strategies are those which combine attempts to disrupt local markets, making them less predictable to both buyers and sellers, with attempts to divert drug offenders into treatment services. The most successful approaches to reducing or ceasing crack use are psychosocial interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy; however, these interventions can only be successful if the user is attracted to and retained in treatment. In order to attract people into a treatment programme, the service provider needs to deal with the immediate needs of the user, such as health, social and family issues; in the medium term they must be able to provide services to increase the user’s well-being, such as complementary therapies and personal development programmes.

"There is growing evidence that partnership working between all stakeholders offers the most sustainable method of responding to street-level drug markets, which is why the approach being taken by the Inter-Sectoral Crack Cocaine Strategy Group is a step in the right direction to tackling the problem in Dublin", explained Mr Connolly.

"Often research emerges long after a problem has taken root and therefore is of reduced practical use. The evidence and in-depth analysis contained in this study provides a strong basis on which we can plan a timely and appropriate response", said Minister Curran.

It is envisaged that a conference will be held on 21 January 2009 in Croke Park to further assess the findings of the report with a view to developing clear actions among key agencies to address the crack cocaine issue.

HRB Research Series 6, Crack cocaine in the Dublin Region – An evidence base for a crack cocaine strategy, is available in the publications section of the HRB website at For a hard copy of the report, please phone+ 353 1 2345127 or email


Source: Health Research Board (HRB), Ireland.

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