Recession's silver lining is less drug use

Maybe the recession isn't all bad.

Police in the Republic have revealed that drug seizures have plummeted to a near 15-year low and are now back at levels not seen since before the Celtic Tiger days.

Seizures for last year show the drug market has plummeted, mirroring the rest of the economy in the country. Such has been the devastating effect of the recession on the illegal drug market, it appears not to have benefited at all last year from the closure of so-called "head" shops, which caused a storm when it was revealed they sold a number of legal highs.

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The value of the main drug types, cocaine, cannabis, heroin, ecstasy and amphetamines, seized by the Garda in 2010 was the lowest since 1997, having peaked in 2007 and 2008 when the general Irish economy also peaked.

Garda sources said most recreational drug users had cut down on their consumption, or had stopped completely as a result of the recession.

"Most drug users aren't addicted and they'll cut back on their drug taking if they aren't working or haven't got much money, and that's what appears to be happening now," one Garda source said.

Other sources pointed out because recreational users, rather than addicts, account for most of the user market, their cutting back on their drug consumption has had a very significant impact on the drug trade.

Overall, the estimated value of seizures for the five main drug types last year was €30.9 million, the lowest level since 1997.

From 2002 to 2006, total seizure values for the five main drug types grew from €45 million to €95 million respectively.

In 2007 and 2008, the values of seizures were €178 million and €224 million. However, trends in those years were greatly distorted by the interception here of two major hauls of cocaine that were destined for Britain.

The only drug type showing an increased seizure value last year was herbal cannabis, with €11 million seized, almost €4 million up on 2009. This was due to the increase in cannabis grow houses in Ireland.

The cocaine trade, which had been fuelling much of the drugs boom and related gangland feuds, has suffered badly as the economy has struggled.

Garda seizures of cocaine fell to €7.6 million last year, or less than half the levels seen every year for most of the last decade, this when the two Britain-destined cocaine seizures from 2007 and 2008 are stripped out of the figures.

Seizure figures reflect the quantity of a particular drug seized in a particular year. The amount of drugs in circulation that are not seized by gardaí is unknown.

A Garda source said they expected the heroin trade to prove more robust in a recession because heroin addicts usually feed their habits through the proceeds of crime rather than recession-hit legitimate earnings.

However, the value of the drug seized last year was €6 million, the lowest level since 2004, and well off the peak €41.8 million seized in 2008.

Seizures of cannabis resin reached just €5.23 million last year, the lowest level in 10 years, and well down on the €48.7 million peak of 2006.

While the value of amphetamines seized halved last year to €390,000, the drug's popularity has been low in Ireland for much of the past decade. Additionally, last year, there was just €70,000 worth of ecstasy seized, compared with the peak of €12.9 million in 2003.