Gardaí and community leaders have told the Health Research Board this is to “set an example” to communities.
Family support workers told the board researchers that debts of less than €100 were treated in the same way by gangs — by everything from warning shots to murder – as debts of over €40,000. Gardaí described the ‘dead door’ to the board — where a shot is fired through the front door or window of the home of an indebted drug user or their family as a warning to settle the debt.
The report, ‘Drug-Related Intimidation’, said trends suggest that a rise in the use of herbal cannabis in many communities, particularly among young people, was resulting in users “running up substantial debts quite quickly”.
It said drug-debt intimidation was a “pervasive and pressing issue” in communities and examined possible responses to it. It said drug debts are accrued when users obtain drugs on credit and their consumption outpaces their ability to pay, or when mid-level dealers obtain drugs on credit and either lose or consume their own supply, have it stolen, or have it seized by gardaí.
“Intimidation is being used to enforce drug debts, whether large or small. Community representatives and gardaí describe a zero-tolerance approach on all debt, whereby small amounts of debt are enforced as much as larger ones, to set an example for others in the community,” said the report.
It said: “Family support workers have reported incidents of intimidation over drug debts ranging from less than €100 to upwards of €40,000.”
The report said even with low levels of debt, families can struggle to make repayment with limited means and often have to try and get funds from multiple sources, including salaries and social welfare, loans from credit unions and moneylenders, savings and remortgaging the home.
“When demands for repayment cannot be met solely by cash, the indebted are sometimes forced to deal, hold or transport drugs, to hold or hide weapons, to engage in sexual acts or prostitution, or to perform violent acts on orders from dealers,” the report said.
Once sucked into the trade, users in debt can find it very difficult to get back out: “Drug-debt intimidation can often become a recurrent cycle; drug users take drugs on credit, they are intimidated to repay debts by dealers or their enforcers, they repay debts, then they are offered more drugs on credit and the cycle continues as their addiction grows.”
It said drug-debt intimidation can include verbal threats, physical violence, property damage (including petrol bombings), stabbings, hostage taking, sexual violence and murder.
The authors said officers from the Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau mentioned one method of intimidation: “[They] described the ‘dead door’, where a shot is fired through the front door or window of the home of an indebted drug user or their family as a warning to settle the debt.”
Under the new national drugs strategy, reviews are being conducted of the National Drug-Related Intimidation Reporting Programme, developed by the National Family Support Network and Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau .
n NFSN: 01 898 0148; fsn.ie