IRELAND has one of the highest rates of cocaine use in Europe, a new report shows.
The country has also been identified by international law enforcement agencies as a gateway for cannabis smuggled from Morocco into the rest of Europe.
In the first overview of drug trafficking throughout the continent, the report from Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) also found:
• Ireland is a hotbed for Vietnamese and Chinese organised crime gangs cultivating home-grown cannabis.
• We top the poll for use of new drugs or "head shop" highs.
• Polish and Lithuanian gangsters are increasingly trafficking drugs from the Netherlands into Ireland.
In the study, Ireland is identified as among a "handful" of countries, also including the UK and Spain, where cocaine use remains "relatively high", particularly among young adults.
The EU drugs market survey shows cocaine is the second most popular illicit drug in Europe after cannabis.
The reports warns: "Labelled as the 'champagne of drugs' because of its high price and associations with the rich and famous, cocaine snorted in powder form has found acceptance among drug users in recreational settings."
Ireland is also one of a number of countries that has seen a phenomenal rise in home-grown cannabis over the past five years. The study says Vietnamese-organised crime gangs have in recent years become prominent in the indoor cultivation of cannabis in many countries, Ireland among them.
"Chinese nationals have also been reported to grow cannabis commercially in countries including Ireland and the United Kingdom," the report states. Polish and Lithuanian gangs are also trafficking drugs from the Netherlands into Ireland and the UK. Turning to new psychoactive substances – or "legal highs", often sold in "head shops" – the study found young people, aged between 15 and 24, in Ireland were three times more likely to have taken them than in most other European countries.
Meanwhile, experts say they aren't surprised by the report's findings. Dr Chris Luke, a consultant in emergency and preventative medicine at Cork's University and Mercy hospitals, said: "We're still seeing plenty of long-term cocaine use. It's the legacy of the Celtic Tiger."
New figures also show that the number of illegal drugs seized here is on the rise. Drugs worth €55.3m were seized in 2011, with cannabis the most commonly found drug. Cocaine worth €7.9m was also found. The total seized was up on 2010, when drugs worth €45m were taken.