Garda health referrals to counter Limerick crack cocaine surge

Chief Superintendant Derek Smart.

GARDAÍ in Limerick are to make health referrals for drug addicts as part of a response to a surge of crack cocaine use in the city.

The Law Engagement and Assisted Recovery (LEAR) project will include a dedicated crack cocaine support service to tackle an increase in people presenting to drug charity Ana Liffey in Limerick.

Limerick Garda Division Chief Superintendent Derek Smart said Gardaí were committed to supporting vulnerable people caught in the trap of drug use.

The project, which will be launched in April, will see Gardaí working in partnership with Ana Liffey with an initial focus on Limerick city centre.

“With the person’s consent, my team on the ground will make referrals to Ana Liffey’s LEAR team for people who fit the criteria as needing case management supports,” he said.

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Gardaí will continue to target drug gangs involved in the importation and sale of drugs.

“Gardaí are very aware of the drug problem and they realise there is an underlying health issue behind it,” Ana Liffey Drug Project chief executive Tony Duffin explained.

“Their remit is to protect life and they realise that drug use requires a health intervention. It’s part of a more holistic approach as drug supply requires a criminal justice intervention”.

Mr Duffin added: “Limerick is a relatively small city with a big drug problem. We are going to target areas of deprivation and known drug use, where a lot of our client base come from.”

The Department of Health has sanctioned an initial €200,000 for three staff and a vehicle to engage with the most vulnerable crack cocaine users in Limerick with the hope of expanding the initiative.

Ana Liffey provided around 9,000 sterile crack pipes in the Mid-West region between 2020 and 2022 to help prevent transmission of infections among crack users.

Mr Duffin said the price of crack cocaine across the country, had plummeted “but particularly in Limerick” which was partly fueling demand.

“The price of a rock of crack in Limerick can be as low as €10. It used to be €50. These are the indicators of the problem.”

A spokesman for the Health Service Executive said the need for a “dedicated crack cocaine response in Limerick” had also been identified in a recent study by researchers at University of Limerick.

The UL study,  ‘Doing More: The health and social impacts of crack cocaine in Limerick City’, concluded that crack cocaine was “available in every part of the city”.

It also found that Ireland is among the countries with the highest incidence of cocaine use and quoted statistics published by the Health Research Board that 400 deaths caused by cocaine use were recorded between 2008 and 2017”.

The UL researchers said that service providers in Limerick were experiencing “high levels of burn out and need for supports” because of increased crack cocaine use during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the study, the majority of crack users are male and adolescents, however “a rise in crack among females has been observed”.

The researchers added that polydrug use is also a major problem with users of crack using benzodiazepines and smoking heroin to come down off cocaine highs.

Ana Liffey chief executive Tony Duffin