A SHARP increase in ecstasy use and addiction problems has been recorded in rural areas.
The economic downturn has led to a move away from the use of cocaine because people can no longer afford it, a drugs taskforce was told.
But there has been an increase in the numbers of people presenting with ecstasy and mephedrone addiction problems at treatment centres in the region.
Mephedrone had previously been available at head shops and is considered a cheaper alternative to cocaine.
Speaking at the launch of its annual report in Killarney yesterday, Southern Regional Taskforce co-ordinator Chris Black warned that it remained relatively easy to buy online.
This meant the drug known as "miaow-miaow" presented a huge challenge for customs.
"People tend to trust their dealers but I don't think you can ever because they're not necessarily giving you the same quality of gear every time so it's important to test it first," Mr Black said.
A highly dangerous form of ecstasy has been linked to the deaths of two men in Kinsale, Co Cork in September.
Michael Coleman (22) and Liam Coffey (22) died of a suspected drugs overdose at a rented house in the town.
A new poster campaign had been planned over the past number of months but its urgency was reinforced by the tragic deaths in Kinsale.
"One of the things we've included is if you suspect someone is in difficulty dial 999. A lot of drug users are afraid to do this because they think if their friends overdose they're going to be arrested," said Mr Black.
"We're working with the gardai on this and they're not about to arrest someone because their friend has overdosed. They'd rather see the person who's overdosed treated," he said.
The posters include apps for Android and iPhones that will even dial the emergency services.
Fears for its funding ahead of December's Budget also dominated discussions at the meeting.
Funding to regional drugs taskforces has been reduced in the past three years.
"Our fear is that services on the ground are going to go after this next Budget and there's going to be a serious reduction in the amount of support that can be offered on the ground to drug users," Mr Black added.