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Petrol bombs and death threats: Families of drug addicts describe the daily fear they experience

Cocaine has overtaken heroin as the main problem drug in Ireland.

Image: Shutterstock/Alegro Studio

Updated Jun 14th 2022, 8:00 AM

ADDICTION SUPPORT EXPERTS told an Oireachtas Mental Health Committee today that greater resources must be put into the health aspect of drug addiction and that addiction is a problem that will not simply go away. 

The Family Addiction Support Network (FASN) commissioned its own research ‘Findings from a study on how families are affected by substance misuse in the North East Region of Ireland’ to look at the impact substance misuse has on the family.

The FASN said that its report was largely driven by the “narrative of families, valued as experts by experience” and “gives voice to the chaos, trauma and distress visited on families impacted by addiction of a family member.”

The report discovered psychological and physical ways family members of addicts have been affected by substance misuse. They discussed stress, anxiety, fear, not sleeping, feeling sick, not being able to eat, wanting to run away, anger, resentment, frustration, blaming themselves, feeling of failure, guilt, and shame.

Criminal activity

Families told the FASN study that they have been exposed to serious criminal elements as a result of their family member’s addiction. 

“They expressed fear and intimidation; taking out loans; getting into debt; being threatened by drug dealers; not being able to sleep in their own house because of threats; having pipe bombs under the car; being threatened with petrol bombs; the threats by their loved one; having to take out protection and barring orders; the impact on siblings, on other family members, on neighbors, villages and local communities; and the link to shame, guilt and stigma,” the report states.

There have been calls from different sectors of society to make drug use a health issue and not a criminal one.

It emerged yesterday that cocaine has overtaken heroin as the main problem drug among new reported cases in Ireland.

The latest figures from the Health Research Board (HRB) show continued growth in the number of cases of people seeking treatment for problem cocaine use, with the figure tripling between 2015 and 2021.

Figures in the new HRB report National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS) 2015-2021 Drug Treatment Data show a total of 10,769 cases were treated for problem drug use in 2021.

Other problem drug use, such as crack cocaine, has also surged in recent years becoming one of the main problem drugs resulting in serious anti-social behaviour across the country. 

A variety of studies across Europe have estimated that between a third and half of patients being treated for substance abuse have an independent co-occurring psychiatric illness.

These findings have been replicated in studies that have focused on cohorts of Irish patients, the FASN said.

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The report explained that psychiatric illnesses are found to co-occur with substance abuse problems ranging from anxiety or depressive disorders to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), paranoia, schizophrenia and other mood or personality disorders.

Impact of Covid

The FASN report explained how families often found themselves in lockdown with the
individual in addiction, and homes became “a pressure cooker”.

The families were unable to use or have access to other interests and outside distractions that helped them keep their mental health stable.

However, FASN did not stop their work and adapted appropriate GDPR guidelines to
establish an on-line platform to support the service users whose need was greater than ever.

“One of the most remarkable achievements in 2021 was that the level of service provision was maintained and, in some services, increased and that no family/family member who contacted the service for support was turned away.”

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