Initiative to tackle drug-debt bullying by dealers

Drug-related intimidation is getting worse as families are no longer able to raise money through loans, and teenagers are clocking up huge debts from addiction to cannabis weed.

Family support organisations have joined forces with gardaí to create a national programme to address what has been a hidden problem.

The National Drug-Related Intimidation Programme is being formally launched today by Alex White, the drugs minister, Derek Byrne, assistant garda commissioner, and Family Support Network (FSN) coordinator Sadie Grace.

As part of the system, families can now make an informal complaint to a dedicated senior officer about intimidation, without fear of repercussions.

“The situation is definitely getting worse,” said Ms Grace. “More family members are coming forward for help because they can’t get cash to pay the debt. Before they could go to the bank and remortgage the house or go to the credit union. Now they can’t and they are desperate.

“The other change is the age of the children that are getting into debt. Weed is a huge thing now. Very rarely in the past would you see debt due to cannabis. But right across the country families are telling us this.”

The weed refers to strong cannabis herb, which is being grown on a massive scale in Ireland. The traditional form of cannabis — resin — tends to be weaker. A Garda source said some teenagers were spending €100 a day on weed.

The FSN highlighted the issue with the publication of its research project, Intimidation of Families, in 2009.

It revealed families of drug users were subjected to threats, beatings, shootings, pipe bomb and arson attacks over debts owed by their children to dealers. It said families were “too fearful” to seek support from gardaí.

A pilot project was set up at the end of 2011, which ran for 18 months. Ms Grace said drug workers said they did not know where the boundaries were in terms of advising families.

“A lot were overstepping the boundaries and making decisions for families, on whether to pay or not pay, whether to go to the guards or not,” said Ms Grace. “They wanted us to develop a policy on that.”

She said the programme had trained 300 drug workers from across the country.

Each division now has its own dedicated inspector who liaises with families.

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