Sunday 28 May 2017

Ireland one of top countries for cocaine use – new report

Brian Hutton

IRELAND is one of the top countries in Europe for cocaine use, 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.

Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published their findings in their first ever comprehensive overview of drug trafficking throughout the continent.

The report also found:

- Ireland is a hot-bed for Vietnamese and Chinese organised crime gangs cultivating home-grown cannabis.

- We top the poll for use of new drugs or so-called "legal 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 where cocaine use remains "relatively high", particularly among young adults.

Spain, the UK, Italy, and Denmark were also named and shamed for topping the cocaine league table.

Together, the five countries are home to 1.7 million - or six out of ten - of Europe`s 2.7 million recent cocaine users, aged between 15 and 34 years.

The EU drugs market survey shows cocaine is the second most popular illicit drug in Europe after cannabis. Around 5pc of Europeans aged between 15 and 64 have tried the drug at least once.

But the reports warns: "Labelled at one point 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 amongst drug users in recreational settings.

"However, the numbers of primary cocaine users in treatment belie the drug's benign image."

The law enforcement agencies also found Ireland was one of a number of countries that has seen a phenomenal rise in home-grown cannabis over the past five years.

The increase of domestic cannabis factories - which is widespread across Europe - is down to advances in cultivation techniques and technology.

Although it has reduced the demand for imported herbal cannabis, Ireland remains a "north west gateway" for cannabis resin into Europe.

"Average seizure sizes greater than 1kg suggest that Ireland is also an entry point for Moroccan resin into Europe," the report states.

"Resin seizures represent about 15pc of estimated national consumption; it is likely that some of the resin entering Ireland eventually ends up in the United Kingdom, where the market for resin, although smaller than the market for herb, is still rather large, estimated to be about seven times the size of the Irish market."

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.

The gangs, which are described are "closed and hierarchical" have expanded to incorporate specialist roles for electricians, plumbers and even managers of cannabis factories.

Investigations have shown gangs in different countries may be connected through a criminal franchise system.

"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 trafficking drugs from the Netherlands into Ireland and the UK, as well as other states, are also becoming a growing problem.

Turning to new psychoactive substances - or "legal highs", often sold in so-called "head shops" - the study found young people, aged between 15 and 24, in Ireland were more than three times more likely to have taken them than in most other European countries.

However, it noted recent legislation brought in here to combat the growing use of the drugs.

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