Teens increasingly trapped by drugs debt as journey from user to dealer escalates

Teenage cannabis users who end up dealing are like the “oppressed becoming the oppressor”, according to a new study.
Teens increasingly trapped by drugs debt as journey from user to dealer escalates
The findings are contained in a detailed study of eight cannabis users-turned dealers, aged between 15 and 18.

Teenage cannabis users who end up dealing are like the “oppressed becoming the oppressor”, according to a new study.

Young people are often entrapped by drug debts and experience escalating levels of violence, inflicted both on them and by them.

The families, including parents and younger siblings, of these young dealers are targeted and threatened by people higher up the distribution chain.

The findings are contained in a detailed study of eight cannabis users-turned dealers, aged between 15 and 18.

The study was conducted by Catherine Comiskey of the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin, Philip James of Youth Drug & Alcohol Service, HSE Addiction Service and Bobby Smyth, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, TCD.

The research centred on five males and three females, all of whom were in treatment for cannabis use.

Seven of the eight were daily users of the drug and first cannabis use ranged from age 11 to 15.

Data began to be collected in 2015 and the final study has just been published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing.

“There was a common theme of naïve crimes with the introduction of debt and developing violence,” the study said. “Young people often stole from their families and obtained credit from dealers.” It said families suffered as a result of drug debts by loved ones.

“As the young person’’s use progressed, the oppressed became the oppressor, young people were entrapped, violence escalated and real fear of incarceration and remorse was expressed,” the study said.

Progression of funding personal cannabis use often moved from within the family to borrowing money to selling cannabis.

“However, as time progressed debts and consequences mounted,” the study said. “Many of the participants were subjected to personal intimidation and violence, even kidnapping.”

Later on, it said: “Some of the participants switched from being the object of threats to being the one who threatened.”

It said some were not comfortable with the role, while others “initially enjoyed the role and the power”. In some cases, threats and aggression transcended any previous friendships.

The study participants said the consequences of getting caught by the gardaí with cannabis depended not on the particular police but how they reacted to the situation and how much cannabis they had on them.

It said consequences of the debts owed by the young person brought threats upon family members, from parents to younger siblings, some as young as 12.

It said it inflicted strain on families with debtors coming to the family door and that in some cases trust between the young person and their parents was broken.

The report said half of the young people spoke of a family member, often a parent or a friend’’s parent, using drugs.

The study concluded: “It was clear that as the adolescent’’s journey progressed, fear emerged.

"This was seen in the expressed personal fears over debts, violence and aggression, both as a victim and latterly as an aggressor. Fears with being caught and impending serious consequences as crime progressed were also expressed. Young people also articulated the fears experienced by, and for, family members.”

It said that while the relationship between drug use and crime has been well documented, less well understood is the “escalating journey” of adolescent cannabis users from the pressure to pay off personal debts to participation in the criminal supply network and the fear expressed for themselves and their families.

The study called for targeted developmental preventions in vulnerable settings.


Below are some of the first-hand accounts of participants included in the study:


Road to dealing:

“When I started off in 1st or 2nd Year, I would fund my bag by, taking someone wanting a bag of weed and someone else wanting a bag of weed and someone else wanting a bag of weed so I would take three bags off one bloke and he would give me one for free … and then one day goes alright I will get a half bar and I sold that in a day and I was like what, that was so f***ing easy, why didn't I do that before.” (Barry, male, age 17, 5 years using)

Experiencing violence:

“I got a good few hidings (beatings) along the way, people kicking the absolute b******s out of me, pulling me into cars 'cos I owed them money, …, I got myself out of a lot of sticky situations by just talking absolute shite to them.” (Andrew, male, aged 17, 4-5 years using)

“…it was either give me the money or we are taking him and that was the way it was.” (Derek, aged 17, 5-6 years using)

Making threats/inflicting violence:

“Having to go and collect money and doing all that kind of stuff like that, …,and I would have other guys on my back wanting money off me as well, it was just a pain in the arse … and after a while I felt like I was so far in that there was no way out of this, ….” (Andrew)

“At the start I loved the power and the respect and people wouldn't f**k with you, because they knew who you were working with and they knew they would get what was coming to them.” (Barry)

“…when I was the dealer and a friend owed me money, it didn't matter that he was my friend or not…, so I ended up breaking his jaw, and I told him keep your €50 and no one ever took lay (cannabis on credit) off me again.” (Derek)

Impact on Family:

“I started getting worried about it 'cos the threats were like, we are coming to the house, do you want your little brother involved and he was 12 or 13 at the time,…, I worried he would get caught up in my mess.” (Andrew)

“Trust broke down, yeah 'cos my Ma start realizing I was robbing her …I owed money and people were talking about coming to the house, she was terrified of that and offered to pay some of my bills, …and that went on for a couple of months and she drew the line and I couldn't take it anymore.” (Andrew)

“.. it's not nice having your ma to pay your bills for you or having your family deal with it or having even someone come at your own door looking for money…” (Derek)

“…then I had people knocking on my door for 300 or 400 euro.” (Fiona, female aged 17, using 4 years)

“I always had me Ma and Da fighting because like if I didn't have a joint all the time, I would be snappy and I would be shouting at ya and I would be screaming like and I just wouldn't be me, it’s like it turns you into someone you are not.” (Fiona)

*HSE Drug & Alcohol Helpline 1800 459 459; drugs.ie; fsn.ie

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