Charities working with drug users have expressed concern around the number of people presenting with crack cocaine dependency.

An organisation in Tallaght, Dublin said it is now the number one issue they are dealing with.

Crack is a form of cocaine that is smoked and it comes in lumps known as "rocks" which sell for around €15 each.

It can produce short intense highs followed by crushing lows and addiction can quickly set in.

The charity, Jobstown Assisting Drug Dependency (JADD), is helping people try to come off the drug.

But they say the number of people using crack is increasing - threefold in the last three years - and they now have 300 users on their books with entire communities affected.

Shane Hamilton, one of JADD's coordinators says: "It is just another form of cocaine but very addictive. So they're going to be using a lot more of it and when they use more of it, it does increase the cost in their life.

"That money has to be accessed somehow and that's increased the level of begging, tapping. There is a lot more rough sleepers, people losing their homes."

He says a more holistic response is needed to adequately address the issue.

"These are vulnerable people engaging in very risky drug use. We have to start supporting them and wrap the community around them again like we did in the mid-90s for heroin use."

Earlier this week, a report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction found an increase in the availability of crack cocaine and it has also been identified as one of the "worrying developments linked to the pandemic".

It also reported that Ireland is one of five countries where experts say the use and availability of crack cocaine "appeared to increase" with one indication of this relating to paraphernalia for crack use being distributed by harm reduction services last year.

JADD also estimates there are around 100 so-called "crack houses", where the drug is openly used or sold in, the wider Tallaght area.

Siobhán, not her real name, lives in Tallaght, she uses crack around three times a week.

She says: "It's too available, there are three dealers who live around the corner from me...there must be nearly 30 dealers in my area alone."

In her 40s, she has had close family members die by suicide and has had other traumas in her life too.

For her, she uses the drug to escape.

"All your problems, everything else just disappear for a couple of seconds," she says.

But then reality hits, she says, when the high wears off.

"On the comedown, you end up taking other drugs because you get an awful feeling after being so high and then crash down."

She is aware of the physical and mental damage it causes but is addicted.

"The most I spent was €1,200 in one day. I went through all my savings ... It literally has destroyed my life. It broke up my family, my kids aren't with me."

The local gardaí say they are tackling the issue.

"It is a problem here, and problem across the city as well," says Superintendent Ian Mackey from Tallaght Garda Station.

"We have a dedicated drugs unit in Tallaght. They're very aware of it and targeting it to the best of their ability. We have had limited success I would say."

He says: " Less than 10% of all drug seizures in the Tallaght area are for crack cocaine and that's out of about 600 seizures in the last 12 months. We've had some success in relation to significant amounts in the last couple of weeks as well."

He says the drug is pervasive, and "destroys families as well as communities".