Monday, 11th February, 2008: People who use cocaine are unaware of, or underestimate, the risks of using the drug, according to new research published today. The figures were announced at the launch of the National Drugs Awareness Campaign, 'The Party's Over', which was officially unveiled today by the Minister of State, Mr Pat Carey, TD. The campaign is a major awareness initiative involving outdoor, washroom, digital and radio advertising. Information about the risks of cocaine is available through the HSE infoline 1850 24 1850, or by SMS (text 'drugs' to 51900) and the website www.drugs.ie. There is also a general information booklet about drugs and a new leaflet about cocaine.
According to the research which looks at the habits and attitudes of cocaine users aged 18-34 in Ireland, nearly two thirds of people who use cocaine (64%) are unconvinced or don't believe that cocaine is a highly addictive drug. About one in seven users (14% approx) become dependent on cocaine and one in 20 users become addicted in the first year of use. Furthermore, only two in five users (43%) are concerned about the effect cocaine use has on their health. Speaking at the campaign launch, Minister Carey said:
"Prevention, including education and awareness, is one of the five pillars of the National Drugs Strategy and I welcome this campaign which aims to dispel the myths about cocaine use. I believe the Country is waking up to the deadly effects it can have on the people who use it. Over the last seven years, the Government has worked hard to tackle supply, provide treatment, educate people and conduct research. We are exploring different prevention strategies and a new national drugs strategy is in development."
The research found 40% of cocaine users used the drug at least once in the last two or three months with 20% saying they take the drug at least once a month. 64% reported having used cocaine on a weekday evening out with friends and 24% said they have used the drug on a weekday evening at home. A social environment was the preferred venue for cocaine use with 69% saying they used the drug in clubs, 65% at a friend's house and 57% in bars.
Some 43% of users say they have used cocaine at a staff party, 19% at a work or client function, 10% before work and finally 8% during work. 67% of respondents agreed that friends and colleagues take cocaine occasionally and 9% said colleagues were present when they took cocaine. 15% reported being asked to obtain cocaine by a colleague.
When asked what was the most amount of money they had ever spent on cocaine, users averaged €234, with €107 being the average spend the last time a user bought cocaine. The issue of personal cost forms a key part of 'The Party's Over' campaign and Catherine Murphy, Assistant National Director of Population Health, Health Promotion, HSE, said:
"This campaign identified a number of key messages to communicate to the target audience. When alcohol is taken with cocaine, the two combine to produce a highly toxic substance called 'cocaethylene'. Furthermore, mixing cocaine and alcohol increases the risk of a heart attack by 24 times. Yet despite this, 57% of users either are unaware or don't believe that there is an increased danger in taking alcohol and cocaine. The campaign aim is to dispel the myths and close some of the knowledge gaps among users and the research suggests some level of detachment and denial on the part of users in relation to the risks of cocaine use."
Although 37% of users acknowledged that violent crimes and murder are often committed as a result of cocaine use, just 11% admitted they could feel violent when taking the drug, while 81% disagreed that they could feel violent. There does not appear to be much stigma attached to use of the drug, with 54% saying their close friends were aware of their use and just 3% reporting that no-one knew about their cocaine use.
Users displayed low levels of awareness about the side effects of cocaine use in general with just 3% citing mental health issues as a possible side effect, 6% citing aggressive or violent behaviour and only 8% identifying heart problems as a potential side effect to cocaine use.
As part of the National Drugs Awareness Campaign the HSE is working in partnership with Crosscare's Drug and Alcohol Programme to develop a new drugs information website, drugs.ie. The site, launched today, provides high quality, evidence based information about drugs and drug use and information about support services around the country. The site provides access to the DAP live help facility which operates 9-5 Monday to Friday, providing online access to drugs professionals who can answer queries or concerns that members of the public might have and point them to where they can get further information and support.
As well as the website the HSE is working with the Drug and Alcohol Programme to provide a Mobile SMS service, the first of its kind in Europe. It provides factual information about drugs in a range of languages, currently French, Polish, Romanian, Russian and Chinese. By simply texting the name of the substance to 51900 you receive information on that substance as well as signposting to other sources of information.