The distinction, in the public eye, of drug use between middle-class young people and those in less affluent areas was highlighted by a sentencing judge yesterday.
Judge Gerard O’Brien said a sense of middle-class entitlement by young people looking for the “greatest high” formed the background to a Co Cork teenager’s death at an orgy of drink and drugs.
Teenager Alex Ryan paid the ultimate price by taking a so-called designer drug, N-bomb, at a Cork City party last January.
The judge, at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, also pointed out the media’s interest in the case.
“What is recreational drug use for the upper middle class,” he said, “is scumbag drug use for those who live in less affluent areas.
“The application of designer drug is a self-serving and justifying term.”
However, Judge O’Brien said: “The deaths of socially deprived young people that have drug addiction problems hardly warrant a comment — because they are not privileged, they are poorly educated, and cannot access the facilities and luxuries that many of the young people who attended at this event can obtain.”
The arrival of the synthetic drug at the party in Greenmount, in Cork City, led to one man, Harry Clifton, with an address in Cork, receiving a two-year jail sentence with 18 months suspended and two other defendants, Ruairí Maher, 22, from Thurles, and Jessica O’Connor, 20, from Killarney, receiving two-year jail sentences fully suspended.
Nicole Ryan, whose 18-year-old brother Alex died, was critical of the level of punishment. She also challenged any suggestion the defendants had shown genuine remorse.
“They had 10 months to contact us and say sorry or say something to us, but not one ounce of remorse has been shown,” she said.
Judge O’Brien said the matter had attracted media attention.
“The participants were middle-class college students whose sense of entitlement to access that better and greater high clouded their judgement,” he said.
“What is recreational drug use for the upper middle class is scumbag drug use for those who live in less affluent areas.”
He said the fact certain elements in youth culture speak of recreational drug use so freely and regularly has normalised an activity which is highly profitable for some and can have fatal consequences for others.
“The offences committed arise out of a devil-may-care and reckless attitude to the consumption of illicit drugs and, in this case, designer drugs,” he said.
“I have no doubt that Mr Alex Ryan’s tragic death has given the participants in this party pause for thought.
“Mr Ryan, according to the evidence, was a willing participant in the drug-taking at this party.
“He paid the ultimate price for it and his family must live with his absence from their lives forever.
“And while all young people feel invincible since time began, that invincibility in the past referred to the possibility of never being involved in an accident climbing Mount Everest — not the wilful and reckless ingestion of drugs obtained from persons who consort with criminals that manufacture these products for the sole purpose of profiting from the horror of addiction and depravity.
“The arrogant disregard by young people, admittedly a minority, to the laws in respect of drug-taking and their mindless carelessness of their own lives not to mention their health is most disturbing and deeply regrettable.
“This case highlights the insidious normalisation of the consumption of illicit drugs.
“The law does not recognise the term recreational drug use.”
Judge O’Brien said people were bleating on about not knowing what was in the drug but he said that very many illegal drugs were full of rat poison.