Tackling drug abuse one generation at a time
Inner-city families broken by addiction find refuge at the Talbot Centre
The memorial to those who died as a result of drug abuse, at Upper Buckingham Street, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke
Liam Roe and Mary Cotter at the Talbot Centre, Upper Buckingham Street, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke
Edel is a child of her time and place – growing up in Dublin’s north inner city during the late 1970s and 1980s when a heroin epidemic hijacked a whole generation.
She started drinking at 15, got into heroin at 17 and, although she stopped smoking it during her first two pregnancies, she wasn’t stabilised on methadone until her eldest child was three and she had a second baby to care for.
However, unlike many of her neighbours and two of her siblings, the 43-year-old mother has survived to raise the next generation, with four children ranging in age from 24 to four.
“Every second door where I lived had lost somebody through drink and drugs,” she says. “The total area was destroyed over the drugs.
“When I look back on what I was doing – it’s horrible. I didn’t want drugs; I think I was killing the pain more than enjoying the buzz.” The pain was of losing two brothers and many friends through addiction.
“I didn’t realise what I was doing to myself and my children,” she says. Like most addicts, a chaotic and criminal lifestyle went hand in hand with her physical addiction.
“I had to put money on the table for the food, the bills, for my kids and for my addiction.” She was serving a two-year sentence at the Dochas Centre in Mountjoy when she was told that her mother, who “was a great support for me and my children”, was seriously ill.
Initially allowed out on day release to see her, Edel did get a full week out for her mother’s final days at home seven years ago.
“She died beside me at five o’clock in the morning” – just six weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. She had been heartbroken, says Edel, over losing two sons and seeing the troubles of her only daughter.
Edel is still on methadone, but waiting for treatment to come off that, and she attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She is glad to say that none of her children has gone down the same road – two are working, one is in school and the youngest is in a creche.
Breaking the cycle
Looking well, with clear skin and bright brown eyes, she is sitting in the Talbot Centre – a place she credits as playing a vital role in breaking the cycle of addiction for families like hers. Housed in a small, two-storey-over-basement brick building on Upper Buckingham Street, off Amiens Street, it is the Republic’s oldest drug education and prevention project for young people.
An hour earlier, Edel was one of the centre’s clients, past and present, who had crowded into a community hall across the road for the launch by HSE director general Tony O’Brien of a booklet marking the Talbot Centre’s 30th anniversary.
Anti-drugs artwork from the area’s upcoming generation covered one wall proclaiming messages such as “Hugs not drugs”, “Drugs destroy you, your life, your family and even your friends” and “Leave the weed, it will be better indeed.”
Yet, as a choir from St Laurence O’Toole’s Boys Primary School belted out the Rihanna hit “We found love in a hopeless place . . .” it was hard not to wonder if any of those 29 children dressed in uniform green tracksuits were destined to be sucked into a drug culture that may have changed over 30 years, but certainly hasn’t gone away.
On the positive side, the hall in which they were performing was on the site of the once notorious “Joey’s Mansions”, where drug use was rife.
At the turn of the century the run-down flats were renovated into the Killarney Court apartment complex, incorporating a community centre, while just down the road a memorial – a bronze flame set into a limestone doorway – was erected as a permanent reminder of all the local residents who died as a direct or indirect result of heroin.
Although this part of the city has improved through physical regeneration, not to mention the construction of the Irish Financial Services Centre nearby, “some of the boats have leaks”, remarks Talbot Centre project leader Liam Roe. While there is a sense of hope and pride in the area, there is still an underworld of drugs, violence and fear.
Open drug dealing
He has worked here for 25 years and remembers when open drug-dealing on the streets was a common sight – “although I am not saying it doesn’t happen now”. However, as his job-sharing colleague Mary Cotter points out, mobile phones have changed the dealing scene.
The substances of choice are also different, although abuse of alcohol remains a constant.
“Prescription drugs are a real, real problem,” says Cotter. They are traded on the streets – many of them counterfeits smuggled in from abroad.