Dr Gerry McCarney, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at SASSY (Substance Abuse Service Specific to Youth), said one of his teenage clients had a gun put in his mouth. Others, he said, had guns pointed at them over drug debts they had built up, often linked to cannabis use.
SASSY covers the northside of Dublin City while Dr McCarney’s counterpart on the southside of the city, Dr Bobby Smyth, has said some suicides may be linked to drug indebtedness.
SASSY had 132 young clients last year, with 112 new referrals, of whom 96 were seen.
Just seven of SASSY’s clients last year were aged over 18 years, with some problem drug users as young as 13 and accessing cannabis either within school or outside the school gates.
Dr McCarney said of cannabis use, now mostly in the form of highly potent weed: “It’s been a major shift.
“We have heard of people being very aggressive [on it], showing huge irritability, and it damages relations within a family.
“We have lots of people spending €50 a day — a lot of them are school kids or in Youthreach.
“How are they paying for it? Put two and two together — there is crime, a lot of stealing from the family.”
He said the degree of motivation to give up cannabis use was also problematic, as the potent weed was providing a more intense high and a worse comedown.
“One thing we have noticed is we seem to have more of them smoking by themselves than before,” Dr McCarney said.
“That is a warning sign in relation to alcohol abuse [so] it’s not a social thing.”
He said cannabis was now “the drug of the moment” and leading to violent behaviour and episodes of verbal abuse within the home, as well as some cases of psychotic episodes.
While some 13-year-olds have presented with problem drug use the majority of clients are aged 16 and 17.
“There have been concerns that some [young people] have access [to drugs] in the school grounds or outside the school gates,” Dr McCarney said.
However, he said that often, the provider is a friend, or someone else in the school or who may have dropped out, doing some dealing to cover their own usage and debts.
“The level of debt is massive,” he said.
“One of our concerns is someone may be asked to call in a favour at some point if they owe money. It’s hard to say no.
“It is very violent out there,” Dr McCarney said.