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The pill peddler John Gilligan’s small-time hustle flogging sleeping tablets to addicts on Ireland’s streets


Spanish cops seized 11,000 zopiclone pills in John Gilligan’s home

Spanish cops seized 11,000 zopiclone pills in John Gilligan’s home

Spanish cops seized 11,000 zopiclone pills in John Gilligan’s home

John Gilligan imported tens of millions worth of cannabis into Ireland in the 1990s as one of the country's leading drug dealers.

But now the one-time kingpin stands accused of operating as a small-time sleeping tablet hustler, selling marijuana and prescription pills to desperate addicts.

The Dublin criminal, who has based himself in Spain after several attempts on his life in Ireland, is no longer the big time player he was before the murder of Sunday Independent journalist Veronica Guerin.

When Spanish cops raided his house in Alicante in October they found four kilos of cannabis and 11,000 Zimovane (zopiclone) tablets as well as a firearm.

Gilligan was previously arrested at Belfast Airport with €20,000 in cash and a card with the word zopiclone on it.


Gilligan is currently in a Spanish prison

Gilligan is currently in a Spanish prison

Gilligan is currently in a Spanish prison

His lawyer said Gilligan was using the medication himself and denied he was planning to smuggle the drug into Ireland from Spain where he could sell it for a higher price.

The relatively small scale of Gilligan's operation shows how far he has fallen from his heyday, when his gang was importing multi-million drugs shipments into Ireland.

While Gilligan may no longer be a major player, the illicit market in zopiclone is a massive business in Ireland.

Zimovane, known as "Zimmos", is one brand name for zopiclone - a powerful tablet or "hypnotic agent" used to treat a severe sleep disorders such as insomnia.

They are not prescribed for use for more than a maximum of six weeks because of the high risk of physical and psychological addiction.

They have become extremely popular among drug users in Ireland in recent years and are openly sold on city centre streets to desperate addicts for as little as €1 a tablet.

The trade is barely concealed in Dublin's north inner-city, where drug users take tablets along with alcohol, methadone and heroin in a horrific cocktail of addiction.

Sources say the gangs behind the trade are highly-organised, with dealers being paid a daily wage of €100 to sell the tablets.


Spanish police seized 11,000 zopiclone pills in John Gilligan’s home

Spanish police seized 11,000 zopiclone pills in John Gilligan’s home

Spanish police seized 11,000 zopiclone pills in John Gilligan’s home

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The Sunday World recently revealed how lucrative the trade was by revealing how Dublin builder Robbie Stewart made an almost €1 million settlement with the Criminal Assets Bureau after amassing his fortune through the sale of zopiclone and diazepam.

The illicit trade has been booming for well over a decade after 10 million Zimovane tablets were stolen from a warehouse before being sold on the streets.

Criminal gangs subsequently started getting knock-off versions of the tablets from places like India and the Far East and in more recent years some Irish gangs began manufacturing their own versions.

A report released this year on street tablet use in Ireland, said crime gangs were producing their own form of the medication here.

The report Street Tablet Use In Ireland: A Trendspotter Study On Use, Markets & Harms, said: "There has been some evidence that Irish organised crime gangs have participated in tableting pharmaceutical drugs. For example, the national report from 2018 records that drugs such as zopiclone, zolpidem, or benzodiazepines have been obtained in powder form and then used to produce tablets using specialised equipment."

However, the report said that tableting machines which have been found in Ireland tend to be slow and old compared to those found in other parts of Europe.

The Indian subcontinent is believed to be the source of a lot of imported tablets which make their way on to the Irish black market.

As they are made illegally they can have incorrect dosages or other harmful ingredients.

"Laboratory analysis of products detained demonstrated that illicit medicines often contain too little or too much of the active ingredient. They have also been found to contain harmful or undeclared substances," the report said.

It said tablets could be easily bought online.

"There are adequate sources available on the surface web to suggest that purchasers do not have to be sophisticated web users capable of operating on the dark web in order to purchase tablets online.

"Increasing numbers of people use the internet to search for health information and, consequently, consumers may end up purchasing drugs online - in particular, low-income, vulnerable groups."

The sites selling the tablets include those which describe themselves as "online pharmacies" but do not require a prescription.

As the sites aren't registered in Ireland or have any stock in the country they can be hard to stop.

The report found that users were getting the tablets from a variety of sources.

"Internal information from Ana Liffey Drug Project staff indicates that clients report tablets currently available on the street market in Dublin city centre as coming from a variety of sources, including being imported without prescription (ordered online), being diverted from a legitimate source, or being 'home pressed' tablets."

The Sunday World visited numerous websites this week which promised to supply the tablets for various prices starting from a little over a euro a tablet.

Sellers also use social media websites such as Facebook to offer the tablets for sale.

Meanwhile, the report pointed out that there are numerous side effects to Z drugs, including impairment in judgement, forgetfulness and confusion and there is evidence that they are linked to vehicle accidents, falls and fracture.

Other paradoxical effects include aggression, disinhibition and there is evidence they may cause infections including fatal pneumonia, and depression.

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