Stationed in Ennis since August, Superintendent Peter Duff came to the post having spent the majority of his career in Dublin.
Earlier this year The Clare Champion examined heroin use in the county and having now settled into his new role in Ennis, the Dublin man says the issue of heroin use is a nationwide problem.
Superintendent Duff says the problem “is all relative”. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of prosecutions for heroin use has gone from one to 17 – a jump of 1600% and represents the largest percentage increase in the Mid-West during that period.
Accounting for the large jump, Superintendent Duff said, “It’s coming from a low base. If you take Dublin South Central for instance it went from 195 to 971 and in my former division in Dublin West, it went from 94 to 368, so although Clare has a 1600% rise, which seems significant, it is coming off a low base”.
The Superintendent is responsible for the Ennis District, covering operations in Ennis, Shannon and peripheral villages including Newmarket-on-Fergus, Quin and Sixmilebridge.
He admits there are “a number of people we know that are dependent on heroin in Ennis.” This grouping ranges from men and women from their early 20s to mid-40s, some Irish nationals and others from outside the country.
“We know they are dependent on it and have come to garda attention because of that dependence. There are varying degrees of dependency there. We would know who they are because they would come to attention for heroin use, they would be detected in possession of heroin, or using heroin or committing crime to feed a heroin habit. The demographic of heroin users in the Ennis is a very broad spread and is split fairly equally among men and women,” the Superintendent explained.
He reveals that while there has been a jump in the statistics since 2002, “there is nothing to say that it is on the increase”, but equally there is no evidence of it going away. “It’s still out there,” he noted.
According to the Superintendent, figures in 2008 show there were two detections for sale or supply of the drug in the region. That number went to 13 in 2009 and currently stands at eight for this portion of 2010.
“Realistically, there isn’t a town in Ireland that there isn’t a heroin addict in. There is someone using heroin in every town/village in Ireland and it doesn’t matter if it’s urban, rural, affluent or deprived or whatever, unfortunately heroin has affected all classes, it’s not unique to inner city Dublin or rural Clare.
“There has been a heroin seizure in the last two years in eight of the sub districts of Ennis, including Quin and Crusheen. Still I don’t think there isn’t a garda district in the country that hasn’t had a heroin seizure. That being said, there is nothing to say that it is on the increase. It is just not unique to the major urban centres anymore,” he said, adding that people are more mobile now and roads are better.
He acknowledged there is heroin for sale in Ennis but admits its supply is generally at a low level.
“We are not worrying about gangs, there is no evidence or no intelligence that there is any type of gang or organised supplier of heroin in the Ennis area, it is all low key. It’s mainly people supplying among their immediate circle.
Supt Duff explained that since starting out in the guards in Fitzgibbon Street in North Inner City Dublin he has experienced a lot of problems connected with heroin, from drug addicts to drug addicts committing crime to feed the habit to drug addicts dying because of heroin use.
“I have every sympathy for drug addicts and I have every sympathy for their families as well – I’ve experienced it in Dublin. I’ve seen people who have been ravaged because of heroin over the years and the impact that can have on a family and a community.
“It’s been well publicised the risks of sharing needles. I’ve seen cases where people I’ve known in Dublin have gone on heroin and become heroin addicts. they have contracted HIV AIDS and a number of them have passed away over the years. These are people I would have known as a garda on the beat in Fitzgibbon Street. It is very sad when you see their families and when you realise that these people are deceased due to an overdose of heroin, or HIV or some other consequence of taking drugs,” he said.
The Ennis Superintendent believes that education and prevention is key to preventing other families going through that hardship.
“It is basically about educating young people on what the consequences are with taking drugs and not just from a legal point of view – that they could get arrested and prosecuted and brought to court – but the health implications and the implications for their family and their futures. So it’s not all enforcement, it is a two-pronged approach to it. If we can prevent someone from experimenting with drugs it’s much more beneficial to us as a whole,” he stressed.
The gardaí, as part of the community policing programme and the schools programme, are involved in the education of drug abuse, across a whole range of drug abuse including alcohol among young people. Superintendent Duff said gardaí are available to address communities on any issue of concern to them and are often assisted by the Garda National Drugs Unit and the Garda community relations office in Harcourt Square, Dublin as well as by the own local drug officers.
Anyone with information on drug abuse happening in their area or who would like to talk in confidence to a member of the gardaí about issues surrounding drug use can do so by contacting the Garda Confidential line 1800 666111 or call Ennis Garda Station on 065 6848100.