'Cork is like Just-Eat for drug users'
GANGS in Dublin have started delivering crack cocaine to addicts in Cork due to the growing demand for the drug in the county - in a service one former user described as being like "Just-Eat for drugs".
According to both drug users and addiction workers, crack cocaine is spreading across Ireland and they are warning that Cork and Limerick are the latest cities to see an upsurge in use of the drug.
Michael Guerin, a senior addiction counsellor with Cuan Mhuire treatment in Bruree, Co. Limerick, agrees that crack is becoming increasingly prevalent in Munster.
His warning comes just weeks after the Health Research Board said the number of people being treated for crack cocaine use increased by 44 per cent between 2018 and 2019.
Michael said he conducted a straw poll of people receiving treatment for various addictions on one day last year and more than half said they had used crack cocaine.
"Five years ago - maybe even three years ago - crack cocaine addicts were the mythical creatures who were living out there, but nobody in rehab centres ever saw them. We were hearing anecdotal stuff about how people were doing crack and how it was available.
"But that changed two years ago and they started coming in or were ringing us saying they were doing crack cocaine.
"This time last year I went into the centre and at that time there were 25 men getting treatment for various different drug issues and I asked how many of them had done crack - and 13 out of 25 said they had.
"I'm saying to myself, 'this is big'. We looked a bit deeper into it then and started talking to clients who were volunteering information and they were telling us generally speaking that crack cocaine was being distributed by the same people distributing heroin."
The Sunday World also spoke to former crack cocaine and heroin addict John (not his real name) who was treated in Cuan Mhuire and has been clean for eight months.
He said crack has surged in popularity in Cork since he became addicted to it five years ago. He was already hooked on heroin at the time and began mixing it with crack to try and chase the same buzz he got from his first high on heroin. He then turned to armed robberies, burglaries, thefts and frauds to feed his habit and would even steal from his own family.
"It's going back about four or five years when I first got introduced to crack. It was expensive at the time because it was only coming around. It was €50 for a small rock.
"You might get six drags off a pipe and that wasn't good enough for me - but then somebody told me about 'snowballing' it, which is mixing it with the heroin and putting into a needle. I fell in love with that buzz."
He said that while a heroin habit cost around €300 a day, a crack and heroin habit combined could cost between €1,000 and €1,500 a day and he was forced to turn to crime to feed his habit.
"That's when I picked up big charges of fraud and armed robberies. When you mix it with heroin and shoot it into your arm it is euphoria. It's absolutely unbelievably addictive. The devil on your shoulder gets 20 times stronger and you have to do what he says. He rules your life at that stage."
At the time he said he travelled to Dublin to get his drugs as it was much cheaper in the capital than on the streets of Cork.
"I'd travel from Cork to Dublin - I bought the heroin cheap on the quays in Dublin and then I'd go to the likes of Clondalkin and get good quality cocaine cheap and cook it up.
"I remember on a Sunday morning getting the bus from Arthur's Quay in Cork to Dublin and there wouldn't be a seat left in it because they were filled with all the heroin dealers from around Cork city.
"They were all going up with the same intentions. It all boils down to cost. An eight of cocaine down here would be about €200 and an eight of heroin would be about €180 or €190. If you travel to Dublin you'll get the eight of heroin for around €100, so there's a massive difference."
However, John says that Dublin dealers have now increasingly started to deliver directly to Cork due to the growing market there.
"I went into treatment in December last year and what was starting to happen around then was the lads from Dublin were starting to send lads down instead of having people travel up.
"While they were charging €100 for an eight in Dublin they were sending it down and saying they'll give it to you for €130.
"It's like Just-Eat. You make a couple of phone calls and it's delivered. It might be to someone's door or be in some field waiting for you."
He said the price of crack has also plummeted as its popularity grows.
"It's becoming massively more prevalent. This is my second time in Bruree. The first time, when I left in 2018, I would have seen a massive change.
"When I came out of treatment that time you could get two rocks for €40 compared to one for €50 before. There was a serious demand for it."
Thankfully, John has now been eight months clean and has not fallen into his previous ways - but he knows many others are still struggling with crack and heroin addictions.
Crack has been an ongoing issue in Dublin for several years.
It came to prominence two years ago when Setanta Hurling Club in Ballymun wrote to then drugs minister Catherine Byrne to say the problem had "increased tenfold in recent times" and "the number of users walking the streets like skeletons is a minute-by-minute event for us all to see".
But Michael Guerin said Dublin is far from the only place where crack is causing problems.
"It started out as a Dublin thing, then became a Dublin and Cork thing, now it's a Dublin, Cork and Limerick thing and I suspect if you looked into it more you'd find it's a Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Drogheda, Clonmel and elsewhere thing.
"Anyone who thinks drugs are confined to certain areas in big cities are way off the mark."
He said there is a knock-on crime effect with crack, as the high doesn't last long and some users will turn to crime to get their next fix.
"Crack cocaine precipitates a very extreme euphoric high in the user but it's very short lived and certain users report they only get this high for 15 minutes.
"So, when they go off that high all they are thinking about is how they can precipitate that next high through whatever means they can.
"Sadly, with heroin and crack cocaine, and powdered cocaine for that matter, crime is part of the scene."
He added that many users end up becoming dealers themselves at the lowest rung of the ladder because they build up drug debts.
"One of the things offered to them by way of solution is the dealer will say if you can deal some of this for me we'll write off some of this debt."
He said when those on the lower rungs are caught they are easily replaced by other addicts.
"Then the person caught is left with a debt and there are no rules. There is no justice.
"If they say you owe €10,000 or €20,000 or €40,000 because you've been subject to a seizure you owe it and that's it."
Michael said even when they are in treatment they can't escape the pressure over drug debts.
"You have these lads coming into treatment genuinely trying to sort out their lives. We've had people and they were in fear of what might happen to their nearest and dearest.
"That's an awful burden to be trying to carry when you're trying to come to terms with your demons at the same time."
Regular cocaine use has also sky-rocketed in recent years and the numbers seeking treatment for addiction to cocaine have tripled since 2013.
"All the problems we are seeing are emanating from a powder cocaine epidemic," Michael said.