CHILDREN AS YOUNG as 12 are being threatened by drug dealers over debts they have built up because of their cannabis use.
Sadie Grace, CEO of the National Family Support Network (NFSN), said drug-related intimidation has always been a problem but the people affected by it are getting younger.
“The threats were always violent, always . The amounts of money are probably very similar. But the age of people being intimidated has changed, we are hearing more about very young people accruing debts for weed, which is not something we were seeing before,” she told TheJournal.ie.
“And they would be well into their drug use or their drug dealing before their parents know about the debt. When they can’t contain it anymore, that’s when their parents would know.”
Her organisation works with up to 80 groups across the country to support families impacted by drug use, including those who are targets of drug-related intimidation.
Drug users and families can be subjected to physical violence, damage to their homes, sexual violence or threats of violence as well as verbal threats. In 70% of cases where a family member is the target of a threat, it is the drug user’s mother, according to research by the NFSN.
What used to be seen in Ireland and many other countries as the soft drug – cannabis, weed, – is causing major problems now. For the last four years we’ve seen younger people affected by drug-related intimidation and the guards are telling us that’s because of the potency of the weed – it’s much stronger. They are using more of it and it’s costing more. I am hearing cases of 12, 13, 14-year-olds getting involved in drug crime.
Grace said communities affected by drug misuse were glad when stricter sentences were introduced as she said the reality is the drug barons who are making the most money out of the trade are never caught.
“They never touch the drugs. It’s the children who are getting involved in minding the drugs and shifting them and hiding them and dealing them.”
Parents of addicts are frequently targeted by dealers as they know in many cases they are more likely to get the money from them.
Borrowing from banks
Grace said some parents have remortgaged their homes or gone to Credit Unions or banks for loans so they can pay off dealers. This left some people in serious financial difficulty in recent years as levels of drug debt range from €50 to €50,000.
“It was easy to borrow a few years ago and when the downturn came, families came along looking for support because they could no longer pay these debts. That’s changing again, there is a bit of access to money again now.”
Families see this as a genuine debt, that their son or daughter has taken these drugs and that they owe money for it. They would say ‘we have to pay it back’. The problem is that we hear from a lot of families that when they pay it back too quickly, the dealers come back looking for more, or if a local thug was paid to get the money from them the family has to pay for that as well.
“And of they don’t pay soon there is interest on top.”
She said there is no consistency when it comes to the behaviour of violent dealers. In some cases they will seek to “make an example” of a person or family over very small amounts of debt.
Grace said in many cases, the drug user had died either of an overdose or by suicide when dealers begin to pursue family members for the debt.
People think that when the drug user is dead, the family’s worries are over. ‘Now that he’s dead, you can move on with your life’. It may be only when their worries are beginning. It’s so complex, maybe the families for been left with grandkids to raise, maybe drug related intimidation comes back to haunt them. We would hear a lot of that – the debt doesn’t die with them, which is really, really sad.
‘Go and get help’
She said she believes the organisations affiliated with the NFSN only see “a snippet” of the families dealing with this problem, as some may never come forward.
Grace said she wants to assure families there is help out there for them.
The Drug Related Intimidation Reporting Programme, established by An Garda Síochána, was set up to respond to the needs of drug users and their relatives who are experiencing these problems.
Grace said she understands some families may be reluctant to interact with gardaí as they may have experience of having their homes raided or their children arrested.
“The guards will see these families in a very supportive way. There is a nominated inspector for each area who deals with drug related intimidation and they will meet them wherever suits and keep it confidential,” she explained.
Gardaí will provide them with practical safety information and advice in relation to threats and intimidation. They will also put them in touch with appropriate drug support services for the person in the family who is accruing drug debts.
There are also local support groups where families can go to speak with others who are in a similar position to share their experiences.
“If this is happening to you, go and get help, work out a safety plan for you and your family because it is so complex and it is so scary.”