Pubdate: Tue, 13 Jun 2000
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2000 The Irish Times
Contact:  11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2, Ireland
Fax: + 353 1 671 9407
Author: Paul Delaney
Referenced: and 


Sir, - I agree with Ald Michael Conaghan (June 10th) that heroin use is
firmly anchored in distinct socio-economic settings and that heroin is
synonymous with the "official neglect over generations [that has] created
conditions of educational, economic and social exclusion".

However, in accepting this, let us not inadvertently send the message that,
while we grapple with the bigger picture of long term change in our society,
young people from marginalised communities will have to engage is some sort
of self-fulfilling prophecy by becoming drug addicts.

It is time to look deeper into the reasons why some users have been able to
use the drug recreationally, while many more become dependent or addicted.

Fintan O Toole (Opinion, June 3rd) makes the point correctly that "what we
have, then, are huge numbers of recreational drug users, some of whom go on
to become addicts". I can understand that the use of the word "recreational"
in the context of heroin does not please Michael Conaghan or sit well with
societal attitudes to illicit drug use. Nonetheless, we have a situation in
this country where there is growing evidence of increased use of heroin in a
"recreational" manner by well-heeled people who can afford to use "clean"
heroin, who smoke or inject it in safe conditions and who obviously do not
need to engage in criminal activity to get the money to acquire their drugs.
At the same time we have young people from marginalised communities dying
from taking heroin.

We need to ask why. There is a lot more to the death and destruction that
accompanies heroin use in deprived communities than the drug itself.

As long as the dealers have a clear field to peddle their wares, such death
and destruction for users and society as a whole will continue.

Although it is commonplace to presume that those who use heroin do so to
"cope" , "block out", "deal with life", etc. we are in danger of forgetting
that most people who use drugs, including heroin, start out doing so because
they like it.

There is no such thing as healthy or completely safe heroin use. But having
said that, we still need to pose the fairly unpalatable question: Why can
some people in our society apparently use heroin in a relatively safe manner
while others endanger their own and others lives?

Addiction is a process and no one wakes up one morning to find they have
become an addict overnight.

It happens over time, albeit fairly quickly for some heroin users.

However, the good news is that we can intervene in that process. In the
report "External Review Of Drug Services For The Eastern Health Board"
(January 20000, Dr Michael Farrell et al comment: "There is now a need to
broaden the base of services available and to consider how briefer types of
interventions could be developed that would be accessible for young people
before they have progressed to chronic heroin addiction." Much more needs to
be done in terms of intervention strategies to prevent heroin users moving
from experimental and recreational drug use to dependency and a chaotic

Obviously, a drug-free society would be the ideal, but that is not a reality
and more increasingly we hear the Garda admit that we will never be able to
completely police drugs out of Irish society.

In the meantime radical solutions that will help to prevent further loss of
life among young people in our less well-off communities need to be
considered. I applaud Fintan O'Toole for raising the issues and furthering
the debate about alternative forms of dealing with the heroin problem. -
Yours, etc.,

Paul Delaney, Council For Addiction Information and Mediation (COAIM),
Nelson Mandela House, Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin 1.
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