There’s a worrying increase in cocaine use among the under 25s in West Cork writes Kieran O'Mahony. And the pandemic has done nothing to stop it, as recent seizures have shown
VIOLENT threats and intimidation from drug dealers are becoming the norm for some families in West Cork, with some being forced to take out credit union loans to pay off drug debts owed by relatives.
This is the stark reality associated with drug use and particularly cocaine use in the Cork West division. Insp Dave Callaghan, who oversees the divisional drugs unit, said: ‘Going back over the years that was a problem in Dublin, Cork or Limerick maybe, but now it is spreading right across rural Ireland.’
He said he knows of a number of cases in this division in the last year where large amounts of money have had to be handed over by a family member to pay off a relative’s drug debt. ‘These drug debts can range from small amounts like €100, where drugs were given out on tick, or bigger amounts running into thousands of euro. Then all of a sudden the dealers are looking for their money and it can lead to family members having to take out Credit Union loans or remortgage to pay these people off.’
If a drug debt is outstanding and is not paid, the interest on it grows and grows by the hour. You could owe €3,000 and by the end of the week it could be up to €7,000
As part of the National Drugs Strategy, the drugs-related intimidation reporting programme is in place to help those families.
‘The purpose of it is to respond to the needs of drug users and family members who are experiencing drug-related intimidation.
If a drug debt is outstanding and is not paid, the interest on it grows and grows by the hour. You could owe €3,000 and by the end of the week it could be up to €7,000.’
Each garda division has an appointed liaison inspector and as the appointed officer for Cork West, Insp Callaghan said he is there to provide confidential advice in relation to threats or instances of intimidation, information on appropriate drug support services for the the person incurring the debt, and to give advice on how to make a formal complaint.
‘The main thing to come out of it is safety crime prevention advice and support, more than anything else. By the time they come to us, many would have found themselves in trouble with these dealers,’ he said.
Another worrying aspect about cocaine use is that the spec of those engaged in it is significantly different from 10 years ago, with many now under the age of 25 using the drug.
‘I know, for example, some GAA clubs across the county have had problems with it and it’s a big problem in some clubs. I know of one case – not in this county – where a weekend away was planned and the players put in orders for cocaine and one man was then caught with the drugs.
‘It seems that those under the age of 25 are using the drug more, too. It’s prevalent in a lot of sports clubs across the board and that’s definitely a concern.’
With Covid-19 hitting pre-season training and weekends away, it has more than likely curtailed these activities for now. He said there is concern, too, about young people’s ‘flippant’ attitude to cocaine use and that they don’t understand the consequences of it or haven’t a clue about where their money is going.
They also don’t know what the drug has been ‘cut’ with, which can also have serious health implications for them and in some instances they may not even be getting cocaine when they buy the drug.
‘It’s seems to be the drug of acceptance now and they can go out and take two or three lines of coke and they’re not hungover and they think everything is fine. They don’t realise the debt that they can get into and the lives destroyed from handing over thousands of euro to these people.’
Insp Callaghan said the problem is right across the social divide and many young people, especially students, caught with cocaine can face uncertain futures if they receive a drug conviction in the courts, which can include hefty fines and even prison sentences.
‘They think they are out having a good time and it’s all good until they get caught. It’s a bit of ignorance too, and selective tunnel vision. They don’t want to know where the money is going and they don’t care as long as they get what they want out of it,’ he added.
He noted that a lot people caught in the possession of cocaine at last year’s Kinsale 7s event – this year’s event is cancelled due to Covid-19 – have found themselves before the courts in recent months.
Judge James McNulty has been very vocal about anyone caught with cocaine and has handed out heavy fines and convictions. In court earlier this year he said those using cocaine are ‘supporting a murderous enterprise and contributing to the profits of dangerous men.’
With the current restrictions in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, one would presume it has thrown a curveball at the cocaine market.
‘It’s certainly causing difficulty for these dealers, but they are streetwise and there are ways and means of getting the drugs in and out. The drugs trade hasn’t stopped at all – albeit it is a small bit more awkward for them.’
However, Insp Callaghan added that to a certain extent a lot of the demand is down for the social use of cocaine because the pubs and clubs are closed.
‘But it certainly hasn’t completely stopped it.’
Over €170,000 seized in 16 months
APPROXIMATELY €175,000 worth of cocaine for sale or supply has been seized by gardaí in the Cork West Division since January of last year, with one of the biggest seizures occurring in March, where a total of €94,000 was seized.
Insp Callaghan said that a lot of seizures are due to the vigilance and assistance of the public.
‘People are picking up the phone and contacting us and it is working. We had a massive response to the CAB operation here in West Cork back in February,’ he said.
Since January 1st of last year of the 87 cases of possession for sale or supply, 33% of those were for cocaine, 57% of them for cannabis and 10% for other drugs, like heroin and MDMA.
‘In the same time period we had 355 cases of simple possession and the percentages are probably similar, with the majority being cannabis, followed by cocaine.
For example, he explained, during the Kinsale 7s in May of last year, there were three cases of sale or supply of cocaine and 55 cases of simple possession – where nearly 95% of those were cocaine.’
He said that when it comes to looking at the stats for seizures of drugs in West Cork, cannabis is still the biggest.
‘There’s a lot of cannabis herb in West Cork and you have grow houses too, so there’s self-sufficiency in a lot of cases.’