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'Heroin in Ireland is an economic massacre - we have to find a new solution'

Grace Dyas and Rachael Keogh – author of Dying To Survive – want their new play about heroin to spark change in Ireland.

Grace Dyas

I KNOW YOU see drug users every day on our streets. Their faces are different to yours. They are thin. They look in pain.

You’re scared. You’re asked for money as you sit in cafés. You put your foot on your handbag under the table. You try to casually pick up your iPhone.

Sometimes you give money; sometimes you don’t. It’s always a complicated decision. You don’t understand. You’re afraid.

You haven’t been given the tools to know what to do. You don’t hear about drugs from politicians on your doorstep. You live with drug users in your home. Alcohol, prescription drugs; sometimes recreational drugs, when they need re-creating.

They are your mother or father, your sister or your brother. If it gets out of control and they need help, they can pay for it. When you leave your house, you feel safe.

Ireland’s relationship with heroin

In 2010 I wrote the play Heroin. It was critically acclaimed and award winning. But eight years later, it’s as crushingly relevant as ever. 

The play views the past 60 years of Ireland’s relationship with heroin. Only 1,000 people will get to see it. Those 1,000 people will be from all social backgrounds. Some will be middle class people, there because they feel upset, demoralised and powerless seeing the heroin problem on their streets over the past few years.

Some will be older citizens, deflated from seeing the problem go in cycles of crisis, promises of action, reports with recommendations not acted upon for years and years and years.

Some will be doctors, lawyers, priests, guards who deal with addiction everyday, some will be young people, here to see something that might help them navigate the peer pressure of drug taking. Some will here to see their story acted out, the power of being represented.

It’s an economic massacre. There are 30 detox beds available in Ireland today. That’s the most there has ever been.

In 2015, 695 people died from drug addiction. In the same year, 425 people died by suicide and there were 196 road deaths, but the lives of those who die from addiction aren’t represented in national campaigns.

A full 72% of the prison population are there because of drug related crime. Most have had traumatic childhoods. It costs 22,000 a year to house a drug user.

In 2010, when I first produced this play, it ended where it started. It was a hopeless cycle because that’s how things were. I hoped the play would make people angry. In that anger I hoped a creativity would emerge.

Talking solutions

For 60 years, our approach to drugs has been dividing us as Irish citizens and making the space between us ever more entrenched. Attending this play is an opportunity to come together. To hear about the solutions we know will work.

We will hear about promises which are being fulfilled among us. In Portugal, they have decriminalised drugs and drugs users and now they only have four overdose deaths a year compared to our 695. Portuguese people rejected the failed ‘war on drugs’ and took back their cities by caring for their traumatised, vulnerable and sick children.

I promise, by October 2020, we will have solved the drugs crisis in our country. Is that an extravagant promise? I don’t think so.

Promises such as those have been fulfilled by us before: the Ryan report, marriage equality, repeal. This is an invitation to come together and talk about rising. About reviving our power to do something different.

It’s an opportunity in Ireland to become WE again.

Heroin will be performed in the O’Reilly Theatre in Belvedere College, Dublin this week – 24, 25 and 26 September 2018. Written by Grace Dyas, with additional writing by Rachael Keogh, and devised by Dyas, Keogh, Barry O’Connor and Lauren Larkin in collaboration with Tony May, Mark Kenny, William Lennon, Graham Ryall and the staff and clients of Rialto Community Drug Team and the communities of Fatima Mansions, Dolphin House and Ballymun.

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Grace Dyas

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