The surge in the supply and consumption of crack cocaine is likely to be a significant discussion point today. A new report from the Health Research Board (HRB) showing a 400% increase in people seeking treatment for addiction to crack cocaine coincided with last night’s RTÉ investigation into the crack cocaine epidemic in Ballymun, Dublin.
In some quarters, there will be shock about the extent of open drug dealing in parks and housing estates in Ballymun, the number of young people drawn into crime, and the lack of adequate policing resources to deal with the area’s serious problem.
The reality, however, is that none of this is new, not least to the people of Ballymun who are still struggling to cope with the fallout of the heroin epidemic of the 1980s. Crack cocaine might work more quickly than other drugs but the people who deal in it use all the same tricks as they do with other addictive substances, preying on the already vulnerable.
There will, understandably, be a call for greater policing to combat the issue not just in Ballymun but in all of our towns and cities, but policing is only a part — and not necessarily the greater part — of the solution. Arrest one group of drug dealers and another will instantly fill the vacuum.
If we constantly see drug use as a policing problem, we are lulled into falsely thinking that it can be eliminated. As former undercover drugs garda Sheelagh Brady said on RTÉ last night, “in reality, it just moves on. That’s why we are seeing the rise in crack cocaine in communities that were devastated with heroin in the ’80s and ’90s, because the underlying problems haven’t been addressed".
That is a key point and one that must inform policy and our approach to dealing with addiction. Monitoring drug trends is also critical in order to develop tailored drug treatment, Anne Marie Carew, research officer, said yesterday as the HRB report was launched.
For the first time, the HRB has data on parents in drug treatment; that is essential if we are to understand the impact of drug use on children and families.
But, perhaps, the most effective way of addressing not only the crack cocaine epidemic but addiction in general is to start having “mature conversations” about drugs, a point made so eloquently by Cork Lord Mayor Colm Kelleher when he spoke recently about his brother’s recovery from heroin addiction.
He broached the uncomfortable subject of supervised injection rooms and needle exchange programmes. There is also a need to change the way we think about the addict. How telling that the Lord Mayor was warned his brother’s addiction would be thrown at him in politics and would bring him down. His openness will go a long way to challenge those old prejudices.
Today, in the aftermath of the RTÉ Investigatesspecial, the focus might be on Ballymun, but addiction to crack cocaine, and other drugs, is all around us. As Mr Kelleher says: “For far too long, this issue has been brushed under the carpet.” No more.