'They still use heroin, but polydrugs are the big thing now'
Drug use has become more public as consumption patterns have changed. Nowhere is this more visible than in Dublin city centre, where users often behave in an antisocial and uninhibited manner
NO MATTER how streetwise a Dublin dweller is, it can still be disconcerting to witness people visibly affected by drugs on city centre streets. To walk down Talbot Street, or alongside the Luas line on Lower and Middle Abbey Street, or past the boardwalk that runs between O’Connell Bridge and Butt Bridge, is to inevitably encounter clusters of dazed men and women who are in a chaotic state of distress.
For anyone walking to work, shopping or browsing in Dublin’s city centre, witnessing people strung out on drugs is an unavoidable reminder of darker elements of urban life. Yet statistics show that drug-related crime is down. So why is it that the heightened visibility of drug use suggests otherwise?
“When I started working in the drugs services 20 years ago, drug use was secret,” reports Gary Broderick, director of the Saol project, which works with female drug users in the north inner city. “It was mostly heroin. Now it’s mostly polydrugs. People use ‘snow blow’ [mephedrone], benadryl, diazepam, and a whole range of tablets, often mixed with alcohol. These can give you lots of confidence and bravado, and make people less careful about hiding their drug use in public.”
Tony Geoghegan is the director of the Merchants Quay project, a drugs and homelessness service. In previous years, this centre had 200 people daily for needle exchange. It’s now down to 70.
“People are still using heroin, but polydrugs are the big thing now,” Geoghegan emphasises. “It’s mainly benadryl, diazepam, valium, antidepressants, sleeping tablets. There’s a big black market for them; pills are about €1 each. To support a smallish heroin addiction is about €40 a day.”
He explains that with polydrugs people behave in an uninhibited manner, which is part of the reason drug use now seems to be much more in the public eye. “A lot of the antisocial behaviour we see is related to these drugs; people behaving like they’re out of their heads. People also often aren’t sure how many tablets they’ve taken, or what they’ve taken. They can become paranoid or hallucinate. I include alcohol with polydrug use. If you’re drinking a few cans with tablets, there’s really a lethal mix going on there. That’s when people start ‘goofing out’ – acting like they’re stoned.”
While the public may fear being targeted by drug addicts, the reality is that female drug addicts are much more likely to be victims of physical and psychological violence.
On condition of anonymity, a number of women who had been drug users, and who live in inner city Dublin, spoke of being threatened, controlled, beaten and bullied by male drug users; men who were almost always their partners. According to Tony Geoghegan, drugs services in Dublin tend to be accessed by a ratio of four men to every woman, and this group of women explained some of the reasons why.
“Their partners don’t want them to go to methadone clinics. It’s a way of controlling them,” says Norma.