Cocaine-alcohol double whammy raises heart attack and stroke risk
PATRICK Plunkett has seen it all. Young people drunk out of their minds, often having taken illegal drugs. Heroin addicts in the grip of overdoses. People from all social classes who have found themselves under his care because they didn't know when to stop.
The problem is not new, the clinical director of St James's Hospital in Dublin said last night.
He has treated people after binges for the past 20 years. But what has changed is that more people are using a wide range of drugs, and "unusually" mixing cocaine with alcohol.
"Cocaine is difficult because it . . . puts people most at risk because of the risk of heart attacks and stroke," he said.
"There's a peculiar Irish approach because we mix alcohol and cocaine, which is unusual.
"People could knock back a bottle of gin or whiskey very quickly and they literally collapse. If you drink spirits it goes straight across to the stomach wall.
"If you drink beer, you don't get the hit so fast.
"If you get too much, too fast, it will render you unconscious and make you vomit. The risk is you get those at once, when you have the risk of inhaling that vomit which makes a mess of your lungs and generally results in pneumonia.
"It does tend to happen in the under-16s. I usually put them on a ventilator. I put a tube down and suck out the whiskey or gin. Often this is just a once-off, and with supportive parents they tend not to reappear.
"On the other hand, it could be the opening of their addiction."
Tony Geoghegan, from Merchant's Quay Ireland, added that most of its clients were getting older.
"Four or five years ago, it would have been 24 years but now its 28-30 years," he said.
"Polydrug use is now the norm, and people are using stimulants, alcohol, prescription drugs and heroin to an extent.
"Experimenters are at the greatest risk. They haven't learned how to use the drugs safely, or they drink too much.
"They're the kind of things you learn over time, and when you add drugs into the mix it becomes blurred. They're not accustomed to the effects."