Expert warns ‘horse has bolted’ as cocaine use increases among young people


An addiction expert has warned that cocaine use has become so common among people in their 20s that those not using the drug are seen as the “odd one out”.

ead of Addiction Services at St John of God Hospital and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCD Professor Colin O’Gara said the “horse has bolted” when it comes to cocaine use in Ireland and the number of young presenting for treatment is increasing.

He said there has been a “normalisation” of recreational drug use in recent years.

“The glamorisation also of cocaine in film, it’s been there for decades, and you know I think the online space particularly social media platforms,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne programme.

We’ve seen this in the past with alcohol with challenges around kids trying to drink as much beer as they can but that’s only one strand of it.

“Ultimately, we have huge availability or cocaine and the more available a drug is the more harm you’re going to get… The proliferation and the normalisation, for me, of cocaine is a significant issue in young people.

Prof O’Gara said his patients have described how ordering drugs online, is now as easy as “ordering a pizza” and he said this makes it harder for some people to break the cycle of addiction.

For that reason, he said an early part of the rehab process is encouraging users to delete their social media accounts and change their number, even though this can be very difficult for young people especially.

Prof O’Gara said there is a false assumption in society that cocaine use cannot cause any long-term physical damage, but that is not the case.

“Young people are suffering serious cardiovascular accidents, including stroke. Young people are having arrhythmias which can be life-threatening, and these young people are ending up on stroke wards and ending up in cardiac wards at young ages and nobody knows this is a problem.

“Yes, a large proportion of individuals will take cocaine on a once off and get away with it but other people won’t and that’s the difficulty that we have. That’s the message that we need to get out there at young people that this is not a safe drug nor are the other drugs such as ketamine, ecstasy, MDMA, mephedrone, and all the other so called recreational drugs.”

Prof O’Gara described cocaine as a “total and utter miserable drug” which causes users to take more and more as their tolerance increases.

He added: “This is why I would urge people to try and get detoxed and get into rehab. In my view, their chances of success go way up.

“I think we need to you know consider this a major public health issue and I think we’re seeing that now from a lot of the reports and I think we need… more funding… If we’re going to have sophisticated campaigns, targeted at young people the more money the better really.”

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