Bill Linnane: 'Do you know how much your kids are paying for ecstasy? €2 a pill'
Do you know where your kids are? On a related note, do you know how much they are paying for ecstasy? I do, primarily thanks to the gardaí who gave a drugs awareness talk in my daughter’s school.
Apparently, kids in our town are paying €2 a pill. It seemed an odd angle to take, informing a room full of teens that two yokes cost less than a pint, but they offered a memorable counterpoint, telling the class of a young lad they found one night who had taken two ecstasy tablets and was trying to chew his way through the back wall of the local GAA pavilion. Strange stories like this rarely work as a deterrent – while they may be true, they are outliers, and it is in the grim mundanity of drug abuse that the real horror lies.
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I came of age in the immediate aftermath of the summer of love, at the point where the seasons changed and it became the winter of bottlings, £30 ecstasy tablets and rampant scabies.
Around that time I shared a house with a guy who was enthusiastically taking and selling drugs. He was nice enough, would always offer to make you a cuppa, and liked to play chess. Obviously, as a drug dealer, it wasn’t all cups of tea and knight-takes-pawn. The house phone was outside my room, I would often hear him threatening people over debts owed to him, sometimes it would be a fiver, sometimes a couple of hundred. He was under pressure, to feed his own habit and to manage his debts. On top of this there was the constant cat and mouse with the drug squad. He had a sizeable record for burglaries and theft, and was facing into serious jail time if he was caught again.
But he had an ingenious way of avoiding getting busted: He would ingest whatever drugs he had on his person when the DS would pull him aside for searching. When they didn’t find anything, and let him go, he would vomit it back up, clean it off, and sell it on. If I have one anecdote that captures the grotty horrors of drug abuse, it’s the thought of consuming a tablet, cooked up with who knows what in a dirty lab, which has also been inside someone’s stomach and possibly has traces of sick on it. You didn’t see that on Ibiza Uncovered.
My daughter was horrified by my story, which is good, because drugs are bad. Aside from the risks of organ failure, brain damage, addiction and ultimate annihilation, I just wanted her to understand that it isn’t just the unknown chemicals you are consuming with drugs like ecstasy, but the circles you end up moving in – damaged, desperate people who can self destruct in the blink of an eye and take you down with them. I was only a tourist in their world, but even for those brief few years in the mid-Nineties I could see that some of them were never going to escape, never going to find peace.
One night my former housemate was arrested on suspicion of drink driving. He did his usual trick of swallowing what he had on him, but this time the plastic wrapping ripped, and he died of a massive drug overdose, aged 19. It prompted newspaper articles asking how could this happen here, and decades on, it would appear that we are asking the same questions, only with more urgency, as drugs are becoming more and more nasty.
The gardaí even told the assembly about ketamine, a drug which, whilst not widely available, nor as terrifying as crystal meth, is not the sort of thing you would want your kids ingesting, mainly because its primary use is as a horse tranquilliser.
It’s hard to hear about these things and not feel like the world is becoming more dangerous, that drugs themselves are becoming more dangerous. But my daughter’s generation are different – they are encouraged to talk about mental health, about happiness and the pursuit thereof, about relationships and self-esteem. They also understand that, contrary to what the gardaí told them, the ultimate gateway drug isn’t cannabis, it’s alcohol.
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