A Europe-wide study of drugs and drug addiction has found that Ireland is one of six countries where the abuse of crack cocaine has increased in the past five years.

The research was carried out for the Europe Drug Report.

It found that since 2000, increasing prevalence of cannabis use among young adults has been observed in a number of countries including Ireland and Finland.

It also warned of a growing use of synthetic drugs and dealing via smartphones.

The rise in trafficking on social media, darknet markets and cocaine "call centres", where dealers deliver quickly to users who order online, are creating a "potential 'Uberisation'" of the drugs trade, it said.

The report said that of 12 countries with regular estimates of high-risk opioid use between 2008 and 2017, Ireland showed a significant increase.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said there is a "more systematic and organised use of different social networks, messaging apps and communication methods that also use encryption" than in the past.

EMCDDA chief Alexis Goosdeel said: "There is a steady increase in the size of the market and sale over the internet and darknet".

Not only are there signs that established plant-based drugs like cocaine are increasingly available, but, he said, "synthetic drugs and drug production within Europe are growing in importance".

Responding to the report, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he is concerned about the increase in the use of cocaine in Ireland.

Mr Flanagan said there was a perception in certain quarters that cocaine is used by way of recreation but he said there was a direct link between the use of the drug and organised crime.

Those who use it he said are as much to blame as those who traffic and sell the drug he said.

" I believe it's absolutely essential that we join the dots and that we establish causation and that those who do engage in the consumption of cocaine are every bit as guilty and culpable as those who supply," he said.

EU member states seized 140 tonnes of cocaine in 2017, the highest level ever recorded, with an average street price of €55 to €82 per gram in the EU.
 
Belgium accounted for the highest proportion of cocaine seizures with 45 tonnes, followed by Spain with 41 tonnes. An increase in trafficking via shipping containers is a "major challenge", it said.
The purity of cocaine at street level reached its highest level in a decade in 2017, while its retail price has remained stable.

The MDMA content of the party drug ecstasy also reached a 10-year high the same year. 

Although an international crackdown on chemicals used to produce that synthetic drug disrupted the market in the late 2000s, producers have increasingly been using non-controlled chemicals to manufacture it.

Cannabis accounted for nearly three-quarters of illicit drugs seizures in the EU in 2017. The herbal cannabis or marijuana consumed in Europe is mainly cultivated in Europe, but cannabis resin or hashish tends to be imported from Morocco, and increasingly from conflict-torn Libya. 

Almost three-quarters of cannabis resin seized in the EU in 2017 was in Spain whose proximity to north Africa makes it a hub for sending drugs to Europe.