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The ‘war against drugs’ is all but lost

By Pat Kelly - 02nd Mar 2020

Y

our columnists Fintan Moore and Dr Des Corrigan have both touched in this issue on the apparent resurgence in use of the so-called ‘party drug’ cocaine. The prevalence of its use harks back to the Celtic Tiger era, when there was money sloshing around thanks to unregulated banking and building sectors and Bertie’s irresponsible stewardship. I will refrain from speculating whether the bankers who were sending us letters announcing that we had been ‘pre-approved for a €15,000 loan’ (without actually having to apply for it) were partaking of the ‘Bolivian marching powder’ themselves.

The fact is — and I’m not trying to be deliberately defeatist — the so-called ‘war on drugs’ has been lost, if indeed it ever even began on an even playing field. 

Personally I have never used cocaine — part of the reason for that is that it was simply  not available to people of my ilk when I was a teenager or younger man; it was simply out of reach financially. Allow me to provide a little context from the perspective of growing up in an area that might be described as ‘working class’, ‘economically disadvantaged’, or whatever else you care to call it. Consider it ‘the word on the street’, if you will.

For part of my young life, I grew up in Finglas, an area whose socioeconomic circumstances are mirrored by a number of such towns in Dublin and elsewhere in cities around the country. Cocaine was simply not available; indeed, it was also a lot more unusual  to encounter a heroin addict in Finglas in the 1970s. Even marijuana was considered exotic, and teenage deviants had to make do with crumbly, low-grade hashish bought down an alley and its availability was communicated by word of mouth, as the idea of having a personal phone that could be carried around with you was the stuff of a madman’s dreams.

On to adulthood, whereby I left the area and spent some years in Brussels cutting my teeth as a journalist. When I returned and visited Finglas to see old friends and family members after many years, the landscape for drug misuse had changed dramatically, and not for the better. The ‘street’ hashish (which I was reliably informed was mixed with cement powder to bulk it up) was regarded as a quaint thing of the past and had been replaced with marijuana, the THC content of which was unlike anything the country had ever seen. Young people — professionals or otherwise — had easy access to drugs like cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, mushrooms and acid, among others, and were taking advantage of this accessibility.

And there was an equally sinister development. Drug-smugglers were by then including firearms with each batch of illegal drugs bought in order to ‘sweeten the deal’, which as we all know has now led to vicious turf wars domestically between rival crime gangs. When I was a child and it was announced on Garda Patrol that a person had been shot, it was automatically assumed that ‘ah, that must have been the IRA’. 

This cocktail of appalling circumstances has contributed to the ever-worsening mess we are in now, and it does seem, as people in the legal profession might say, the ‘toothpaste cannot be put back into the tube’.

Many healthcare professionals take issue with using combative terms such as ‘the war on cancer’ because it is simply misleading and the same surely applies to the  ‘war on drugs’. What we are faced with now is simply a damage-limitation scenario. 

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