The Northern Standard 3 Dec 2015




There was a time not so long ago when it would have seemed extraordinary to hear or read about a community in Co Monaghan organising to stave off severe threats arising from the sale and consumption of dangerous drugs in its midst.

Those were the sort of problems that were confined to the inner cities, arising from the sort of social disenfranchisement and alienation that was entirely foreign to the way of life in our county’s towns, villages and rural settlements.

Drugs prosecutions, usually for small quantities of cannabis or related substances for personal use, were sufficiently rare in our courts to merit wide remark and quite in depth media attention generated more by their novelty than any hint they carried of a serious problem underlying the local social fabric.

Times have sadly changed – the inroads drug dealing and drug use have made in parts of our county were never more starkly demonstrated than at the two public meetings held in the Mullaghmatt/Cortovlin area of Monaghan Town in the past year or so following the death of a young local man which was attributed to their use of what came to be branded a “legal high” substance.

Another subsequent loss of a young life in which this form of drug was regarded as playing a part fuelled the rising tide of concern in the community and wider area which has now resulted in the publication of the report, “A Community-based study of Synthetic Cannabinoid use in Co Monaghan, Ireland” launched by Government Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin at the Teach Na nDaoine Family Resource Centre last week.

The report makes horrific reading.

Quotes, from a number of people who have grown dependent on the “herbal” variety of this form of substance, cry out from the pages in voices chillingly articulate of the pain and despair that comes with addiction and withdrawal.

This is a drug that has taken a savage grip of people’s lives in some of our local communities, and its reach is extending.

As Tim Murphy of Cavan/Monaghan Drug Awareness told the report launch event: ‘The inexperience and young age profile of users, had combined with confusion over the legal status of these substances to lead to widespread sale and use. Compulsive heavy paths of use

are developing rapidly in most cases.’

This is not just one community’s problem. Those who make their presence known ‘like the ice-cream van’ as one contributor to the report remarked in order to peddle this noxious product will spread their evil where the market takes them, and none of our towns or villages are immune.

Why the demand is there – why young people in particular are prepared to risk the destructive long-term consequences of fraternising with the drug in order to gain brief escape from boredom or the deeper pain they may experience from living – is a difficult and often unpalatable question to try to answer, as it seems to invite fault-finding in parental, educational or community supports.

The Teach na nDaoine-commissioned report is not a fault-finding exercise. It generates useful research to assist in quantifying and understanding the problem, and makes a series of recommendations that possess sufficient soundness and practicality to merit them being judged by Minister Ó Ríordáin as being worthy of inclusion in the new National Drugs Strategy to come into being next year.

The Minister’s presence at last week’s event was of itself significant, demonstrating that the struggles of a local community against such a devastating problem do matter in the wider context of things, that the feeling that no-one cares that has often accompanied this particular struggle is not sustained by the facts. And the Minister brought more than mere moral support. His promise of more robust legislation to tackle this particular form of drug danger will also encourage those afflicted by it – hopefully this will manifest in legislative wording that will rob the manufacturers of “this poisonous muck” (in the words of Independent General Election hopeful John Wilson) of the ability to evade sanction by merely reconstituting the mix of components in their vile product.

Minister Ó Ríordáin had some interesting things to say also about removing the stigma of criminality from some forms of drug use and fixing the issues that surround them more definitively under the aegis of healthcare rather than the supervision of the legal system.

The Minister was not arguing that drugs be legalised. But he was saying something equally provocative – that the way we talk about this issue, the assumptions that we often unthinkingly make about it, have to fundamentally change.

The brave decision taken by the Teach Na nDaoine Family Resource Centre to commission this report and launch it in a high-profile way deserves to make an important contribution to the new conversation we all must have about why “herbal highs” and other forms of drug abuse have taken hold of sections of our population. And, as the Minister also rightly drew attention to, such a conversation should also take cognisance of the still profoundly dysfunctional attitudes that pertain in Irish society towards the misuse of alcohol.

The “living hell of herbal”, as its users so graphically described in the contribution to the new report, is a very real condition of life for those who have fallen foul of its ill effects. But the malaise of which it is a symptom has a much broader reach, one lengthened considerably every time we refuse to acknowledge the extent of drug abuse in Co Monaghan or talk about it in terms other than assumptions and stereotypes.

The report launched last week has started an important conversation – it is one that must be continued.

We must start to deal with drugs.