YOUNG teenagers are being groomed by sinister drug interests in Limerick City to become the next generation of drug mules.
And families are being dragged into an intimidating net of coercion when their children can’t afford to pay debts to dealers for their addiction.
That’s been the experience of an organisation in Limerick City that aims to offer support to youngsters in trouble and advice to their families.
The Community Substance Misuse Team – the Mid West arm of the Clondalkin Addiction Support Programme (CASP) – is a charity funded by the HSE through the Limerick Drug and Alcohol services. The charity deals with adolescents from 13 years old.
The service is celebrating ten years of working in the Mid West and is launching its first intervention model for helping young teens stay out of reach of people who will exploit their vulnerability.
“A lot of the young people we meet are at a stage when their misuse of substances, including drugs and alcohol, has become or is becoming a problem which is affecting their lives,” Mike Walsh, a team teader with the organisation told the Limerick Post.
After ten years working in Limerick and the Mid West, Mike says members of the team know that the substance abuse problem is changing, rather than going away.
“When a young person is vulnerable or isolated, they are a target for the drug gangs. It can happen in any area, rural or city.
“The grooming and training of the next generation of drug mules is happening. Of course a young lad is going to say yes to someone who offers him an expensive pair of new trainers to deliver a package,” said Mike.
“Then there is the idea that drugs are a choice. It might be the first time, but once they get hold of you, it’s a different matter. Young people are making choices that can affect the rest of their lives.”
Families are also victims in the trade, he says.
“How is a twelve or thirteen year old going to pay for his cocaine habit that can be cost €50 or €100 a day? This is where drug debt intimidation starts.”
“Families are struggling but when you’re in a community that is being controlled by drug dealers, it’s very hard to know what to do.”
Not all young people who experiment with substances go the whole way down the road and Mike’s organisation aims to give them choices.
“We try to help young people identify what factors are involved in making a wrong choice and seeing if any of those factors can be changed. We meet them where they are and offer care and support.
“We’re very lucky to have a lot of referral pathways and if we are not the right organisation to help someone, we will contact those people who can and smooth that pathway.”
The charity gets between 150 and 170 referrals a year, often from schools or children’s support organisations.
The Community Substance Misuse Team’s new intervention model was launched at a function in Limerick City attended by Mayor Francis Foley and John Lonergan former Governor of Mountjoy Prison.