The growing problem of cocaine abuse, highlighted by tragic events of recent weeks, has been evident to the health authorities locally for some years.

That’s according to Regional Drug Coordinator Tony Barden who confirmed that the number of cocaine users attending for treatment in the region had risen in percentage terms from 0.5 to 4.8 over the last five years.

With specific reference to Waterford, 387 “contacts” from the city and 190 from the county were treated last year. In additional a small number – 7 in the city and 19 in the country – were assessed but did not commence treatment.

Mr. Barden warned those who might think otherwise that there is no safe way to use cocaine. And the health risks become much worse when combined with alcohol or other drugs. Alcohol and cocaine combined, for instance, produce cocaethylene, which intensifies cocaine’s effects and may increase the risk of sudden death.

Cocaine’s many dangers include neurological effects including convulsions, seizures and coma; heart disease, lung damage and psychological damage including auditory hallucinations and fornication (the sensation that insects are crawling under the skin). Its use can also cause infections and sores associated with injections, incontinence, brain infections and gangrene of the bowel and other body parts from lack of blood flow.

“Cocaine in any form is a powerfully addictive drug and addiction seems to develop more quickly when the drug is smoked – as crack is – rather than snorted”, Mr. Barden advised.

In addition to the usual risks associated with cocaine use, crack users may experience acute respiratory problems including coughing, shortness of breath, lung trauma and bleeding. It can also lead to aggressive and paranoid behaviour.

Crack, which produces an immediate and intense euphoric effect, is produced by dissolving powdered cocaine in a mixture of waster and ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). The mixture is boiled until a solid substance forms and is then removed from the liquid, dried and broken into rocks which are then sold as crack cocaine.