Calls for urgent aid from statutory bodies have been made following pleas from mothers of teenage drug abusers that the problem in their area has spiralled out of control.
Three mothers from the Ballymagroarty area with sons aged between 13 and 16 say they are their wits end over their children’s abuse of legal highs and prescription drugs.
The women who spoke to the ‘Journal’ do not wish to be named to protect the identities of the boys. They have catalogued a range of incidents that they say have had a devastating impact on their sons and their families as a whole.
In a plea for help they recently contacted Independent Councillor Darren O’Reilly who works as a youth worker in Rosemount and who has long term experience of dealing with the issue
Mr O’Reilly says believes there is a direct link between a recent upsurge in certain types of crime in the city and addiction to drugs.
He told the ‘Journal’: “Look at the rise in certain types of crime. Cars being stolen and burned out, houses being broken into, community centres being destroyed and it would appear that average age of the suspects is between 14 and 17.
“I am dealing with families and young people through my job as a youth worker and the common denominator for their problems is drugs. We are seeing legal highs, prescription drugs being used a lot more and some of them are so far under the influence now that in order to get money for drugs they are selling their clothes, computer equipment anything they have. And, when all that is gone they are breaking into their neighbour’s houses and stealing as well as breaking into schools and taking what they can.
“The community centre in Ballymagroarty was ransacked. There was a young lad caught coming out of the school with a bagful of iPads and according to the families I have dealt with it’s all because of drug addiction.
“How do we deal with this? That’s the big question. What can we do as a city when young people are coming forward and saying they have issues with drugs? In particular we have a major problem with legal highs and prescription medication. The services out there are being cut and the need is getting greater and parents are at their wit’s end. I am personally dealing with three parents at the minute who are saying ‘what can we do, where can we go?’ They feel powerless their children are deteriorating in front of them and they feel they are going to end up dead or killing someone else.”
Darren says that youth workers all try to include young people in community activities and try to provide them with positive role models and encourage participation as much as possible. However, he says that the issue of addiction totally disrupts the process.
A third woman said her 16-year-old son has been hospitalised three times because of drug abuse
He said: “The issue of drugs has always been prevalent in this city as well as alcohol. Young people choose different paths growing up. Some try drugs and some try drink. The problem now is that there is more availability. Years ago there were no legal highs. The conventional drugs were cannabis, ecstasy, speed and cocaine. But, it was seldom that they were readily available in this city. Now, you can order it inline and it’s delivered to your door. The abuse of prescription drugs is massive and a factor that wasn’t there in the last generation. There is a lot of dependency on diazepam and also painkillers are another thing people are taking now.
“I saw a post on Facebook the other from a parent flagging up that you could directly contact a Facebook page to buy diazepam and he was warning other parents about it.
“Watching it growing up the use of drugs in Derry about ten years back would have been largely recreational. Drugs would have been taken at the weekend and not used again until maybe the next weekend or longer. Now, taking drugs is driving young people’s existence. Kids are walking around ‘zoned out’. I can see it clearly in the streets. Young people I have worked with in the past are drawn out, their eyes are sunk into their heads, all because of what they are taking. Prescription medication is issued in a controlled environment for people who need it, but youngsters are taking it on a daily basis. Some are taking synthetic cannabis, smoking ordinary cannabis, taking E’s at the weekend and then to deal with the come down they are taking diazepam. So, they are taking a massive cocktail of different types of toxin.”
Asked how this cycle of drug abuse can being broken Colr O’Reilly told the ‘Journal’: What we need to be doing as a city is providing as many coping mechanisms as possible to get them help for addiction. We need to build upon the great community programmes available, but statutory agencies need to take a great deal of responsibility too. We need to be more pro-active in getting funding into the city and get a crisis intervention centre that has an element of detoxification and build in elements of education and support. There needs to be a holistic approach.
“As Councillors we have an obligation under the Local Government Act to lobby statutory agencies involved if there is a need out there and we have community planning tools as well. This is an issue that affects everyone. It doesn’t discriminate against class, creed or colour. We have passed motions at Council that have had cross-party support for a crisis intervention centre. There is a will amongst the parties and the independents to establish a model to deal with prevention, education right through to treatment and aftercare.”
On a personal level Darren O’Reilly says that looking at what is happening in Derry is awful.
“It’s devastating to watch. You work with young people over a summer period and get them involved in all sorts of activities and then they don’t show up for several weeks. Then you go to the house to ask where they have been and you see they’ve lost weight, their cheeks are drawn in and they are behaving erratically. Families are being destroyed and the parents are crying out for help but there’s nowhere to go. The other siblings are being caught up in what is going on as well. It’s just devastating to see families go through it and these are no longer isolated cases.
“We need to be more pro-active in getting funding into the city and get a crisis intervention centre that has an element of detoxification and build in elements of education and support. There needs to be a holistic approach,” he said.
The first mother the ‘Journal’ spoke to said her 13-year-old son told her that he was 10 when he first took drugs.
“I even went as far as grounding him for nearly a year, but last summer he got out again and he went downhill from there.
“He has been taking herbal cannabis and purple E’s. I was told he was found recently lying in a house foaming at the mouth. The ones with him were just about to call an ambulance for him but he came around. Apparently they go into town and meet some boy who sells it to them,” she said.
The legal high known as herbal or synthetic cannabis, also called K2 or spice contains a blend of plants and herbs which are then sprayed with an active ingredient, such as JWH-018, a synthetic cannabinoid. The active ingredients are similar to cannabis in that they give a marijuana-like high. But, the potency of the ‘fake cannabis’ is often vastly stronger that natural cannabis and can cause an unpredictable range of highly dangeros side-effects.
It has grown increasingly popular over the past several years but different compunds of it can lead to unpredictable and a range of side effects that can cause serious harm.
The mum cintinued: “He’s already nearly six-foot tall and was broadly built but he’s lost a heap of weight. He’s become really angry. Just this week, he went into the street and started roaring and shouting abuse at people because he couldn’t get his own way. If he doesn’t get his own way then he says ‘I’m going to take more stuff’.
The woman also said that her younger son is now beginning to copy his brother’s erratic behaviour because of what he’s witnessed.
“There’s a bunch of my sons friends, between 10 and 20 of them and you can tell by looking at them which of them are on drugs. There was a couple of times they were just on a wall out in street and were totally zoned out. They wouldn’t have known if someone had walked past them. These are kids between the ages of 13 and 17.
“I am afraid he’ll go out and do something stupid. I mean I was told he was foaming at the mouth, so maybe next time he might not wake up. He could end up dead, he’s only 13.
“It causes rows between me and his dad and it affects the younger children because they hear all this. But, what can we do, there’s no help. My son went from going to boxing four days a week and playing football after school to doing nothing. He gave it all up.
“Everything possible needs to be done. These young ones need help and support, there’s nothing whatsoever. I have contacted Darren at 11pm at night to come out here and help me find him or talk sense into him. We need more people on the ground to talk to them and be on their side.”
All of the women that spoke to the ‘Journal’ said that they feel it is easy for the blame to be placed on ‘bad parenting’ and that unless the situation is experienced then it is impossible to know what affected families are actually facing.
Another mum who spoke to the ‘Journal’ said that her two sons aged just 14 and 15 have addictions to drugs as well.
She said: “After last summer I noticed a change in them. As a parent you don’t want to believe they are taking drugs, but then it got really bad and they were using them every day. Their personalities changed. Mood swings started kicking in, but I put it down to them being teenagers. But I realised that their body language had changed totally and they didn’t care about themselves.
“The older boy started taking them first, then the younger boy who was completely anti-drugs started too. It changed him in a way that I didn’t even know who he was anymore. As a parent it’s devastating to watch your two sons like that.
“They were coming into the house with the stuff on them and so we had to start searching them to make sure they had nothing on them. It’s just a nightmare. They get it by going on Facebook and making contact with people who are selling it. “At that age, they are able to get their hands on all these legal highs. At one stage it was herbal cannabis, but you have to see someone on it to realise the effects of it. I have had to clean their vomit up from all over the house. They can’t move properly. I’ve had to call an ambulance for one of them. I went to his room and his eyes were rolling in his head then he went over and was out cold. I phoned 999. You have to go through yourself to understand this properly.
“I have had to go put many times looking for my two sons and their friends who were all in the same state and are the same age if not even younger. They are so vulnerable in that state. If they fall over they may not wake up again. They are hiding in flats and the fields around here taking this stuff. Because they are so young and these things are called ‘legal’ highs they think it’s alright-that it won’t harm them.
“At one point they were taking it first thing in the morning. They would have left the house to go out and get it. When they take it they can’t control their muscles, they can’t walk properly. They don’t care what they look like or what they wear. They have no pride left.
“There doesn’t seem to be any herbal cannabis about at the minute so now they are taking ‘blues’ (diazepam) and other prescription medicines. I wish that when my boys were younger someone had come and told me that this stuff was out there and to watch out for it.
“Experiencing this is a nightmare.”
And, a third woman said her 16-year-old son has been hospitalised three times because of drug abuse.
“He’s been hooked up to heart monitors and treated for kidney failure. There is an epidemic of addiction in this area. It is unreal.
“It is heartbreaking because every time you go out the door you see young ones off their heads. My son has ruined his education. He has no desire for life anymore. He was only 14 when we realised. They all met up in gangs after school and took this stuff.
“I actually ran in my bare feet through Ballymagroarty one day to find him and people were looking at me as if I was mad. But people don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors, especially when you have younger children and you are trying to give them some sort of normal life.
“Once they start taking herbal cannabis, it is so addictive that they don’t care about themselves. They don’t eat, they stop caring about their families. I have seen him trying to come off it-sweating, vomiting, crying out like a baby. Apparently there is all sorts in this stuff. It’s apparently easier to come of heroin because it can be treated with methadone but the compounds in herbal cannabis change all the time so it cannot be treated.
“People need to come together and be strong about this. These children need help. They don’t want to be there but there’s no help. They are very vulnerable.”