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Rise in cocaine use after blitz on head shops

HEAD shop closures have caused a spike in cocaine use -- with ruthless dealers use more toxic mixing agents to bulk up the drug.

A leading drug treatment expert has echoed doctors' concerns about the rising levels of mixing agent in cocaine sold here.

Austin Prior, deputy director of the Rutland Centre drug treatment facility told the Herald: "The fact that gardai have been cutting off supply and more and more are people reverting to cocaine because of the crackdown on head shop drugs means that dealers will be using more and more mixing agents."

Toxic

A leading Irish doctor has separately warned that amounts of toxic mixing agents in the drug have doubled in the recent past. Brian O'Brien, an intensive care specialist at the Mater Hospital, said: "Street level cocaine is now about 30pc pure whereas it used to be 60pc or 70pc."

The Rutland Centre has seen similar warning signs, Mr Prior said.

"Cocaine has been causing deaths in Ireland for years. The reality is that taking excessive amounts of cocaine is extremely risky but the increased use of mixing agents is only adding to the risk," he said.

"People think that if someone falls ill it's because of a 'bad batch' of cocaine, but cocaine is a lethal substance anyway, and when these mixing agents are added along with alcohol you get a toxic cocktail."

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of cocaine-related overdoses in recent years.

Tragic model Katy French collapsed and died after taking cocaine at a party in December 2007.

Her post-mortem showed that she died from irreversible brain damage and the toxicology report found cocaine, traces of codeine and other substances that could not be identified.

Mater specialist Brian O'Brien said in a recent interview: "Not only is cocaine becoming more common but we are having an unusually high case-fatality rate.

"People seem to have this perception that cocaine is a reasonably safe thing and this was totally at odds with what we were seeing."

Mr O'Brien said the problem with cocaine in Ireland is likely to be what it is being mixed with.

A recent study by doctors at the unit in the Mater hospital in Dublin shows that very few of those admitted with overdoses survive.

Overdoses

Cocaine overdoses accounted for none of the admissions to the Mater's ICU in 2003 and there was approximately one a year for the next three years.

However, by 2007 this had risen to 10 cases a year. The doctors examined all cocaine overdoses admitted from 2003 to 2007 and followed them up for two years afterwards.

Of the 19 patients admitted with cocaine toxicity, only three are still alive. Ten of them died in hospital while another five were dead within two years of discharge.

One, who had been smuggling the drug internally, was untraceable.

hnews@herald.ie


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