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"The word junkie is disgusting" - Dubs star Philly McMahon on drugs, his brother and being a role model

McMahon’s brother John died in London on this day four years ago after a long battle with drug addiction.

I’m not an expert in this area, but I’m an expert in having a family member who is a drug addict. I’ve seen what hasn’t worked for him.

DUBLIN FOOTBALLER PHILLY McMahon has called for a change in how Irish society views drug addicts.

Speaking yesterday at the launch of the public consultation for the new national drugs strategy, the Dublin defender spoke about his own experiences growing up in Ballymun and losing his brother to drugs.

McMahon’s brother John died in London on this day four years ago after a long battle with drug addiction.

National Drugs Strategy Minister for Drugs Catherine Byrne and Philly McMahon Source: Jason Clarke Photography

McMahon told the crowd in St Andrew’s Resource Centre on Pearse Street that Ireland is not winning when it comes to drugs.

We are losing the war against drugs in Ireland.

“During the period of this public consultation, we will lose 42 vulnerable members of society.

“I do not believe the current strategy is working. We need a new strategy, one that addresses the challenges we face in 2016.”

McMahon told the crowd that growing up in Ballymun, drug use was rampant, but said he was lucky to have found sport.

“My brother John was not so lucky. For a large part of my life I was shadowed by a stigma.

I was embarrassed of him and ignored him on the streets. When I should have shown empathy, compassion and love, I pushed him away.

“He was the most caring and kind brother. If I had a drug awareness education, I would have known how to deal with him.”


Philly McMahon Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

John died of a heart attack in London in 2012, days before his admission to a rehabilitation centre. Although he did not die from drugs, McMahon says “there is no doubt his body lost the battle against drugs”.

The footballer is in the process of establishing a charity called Half Time Talk to work with vulnerable youths and says the lessons from tough games played in front of 80,000 in Croke Park are applicable to fight against drugs.

“We’ve lost the first half against drugs. We need a half time talk about how to approach the second half.

“My recommendation is to work with people. To fight the perception that drug addicts are the lowest of the low.

“John made mistakes throughout his life. But if he realised he wasn’t going to get a second half, he would have changed how he played the first half.”


Philly McMahon McMahon playing for Ireland last year. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Speaking to TheJournal.ie afterwards, McMahon says that the stigma around drug addiction is still prevalent.

There’s definitely things that need to be changed, the old drugs strategy isn’t working. The big thing is we have to change how we treat drug addicts in this country.

“I know I treated my brother the wrong way. If we did that, we’d have a more inclusive society for addicts.”

McMahon, who favours the decriminalisation of drugs and needle exchanges, says that one word in particular poses problems.

The word junkie is a horrible word, it’s a disgusting word that’s really dehumanising. It makes me very angry.

“But it starts from the top and work its way down. There has to be campaigns around the issues of how we talk about drug addicts, how we treat drug addicts.

At the end of the day, anybody can become a drug addict – any family, any social class – that’s what we need to realise – anyone who doesn’t have kids and calls someone a junkie, in 20 years if their kid becomes a drug addict, they’ll be thinking is that the right way to speak about someone?

“It’s a massive societal change needed.”

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Role model

Philly McMahon Source: James Crombie/INPHO

McMahon wants State bodies to intervene earlier in the lives of vulnerable youths, particularly those who are too young to enter adult rehab facilities.

He adds that he takes his position as a role model seriously, having initially not been aware of it.

It took me a while to be aware of  it. It was only when I started speaking out about the stigma around drugs and Ballymun that I started to realise I had a platform to be a role model.

“Then when my brother passed away, that was when I really wanted to go and help people who need it.”

Public consultation on the new national drugs strategy is underway. People can provide their feedback in one of the following ways:

Online: National Drugs Strategy Consultation

Email: yourviews@drugsstrategy.ie

Write: Public Consultation Questionnaire or to National Drugs Strategy, PO Box 12778, Glenageary, Co Dublin

Phone: Lo-Call 1890 10 00 53

Read: ‘The whole thing took five minutes’: Young woman talks about saving the life of a heroin addict

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