By Sarah Mac Donald - 25 February, 2020
Bishop Michael Router of Armagh has expressed concern that every community in Ireland, both rural and urban, is now “badly affected by drug addiction”.
In his address to the ‘Stop the Stigma’ conference in Dundalk on Monday, the Bishop said recent sad events in Drogheda and the “terrible murder” of Keane Mulready Woods, in particular, had brought into sharp focus once again the “issue of drug abuse on our small island and the struggle by a group of ruthless individuals to control the lucrative trade in illegal substances”.
Dr Router, who over 20 years ago got involved in the Cavan Drugs Awareness group, told the conference, which was organised by the Family Addiction Support Network to mark International Family Drug Support Day, “all of us here in this room know that drugs have been widely available in most urban communities throughout the land since at least the 1980s”.
He added that the number of people getting drawn into their grasp is increasing year on year.
He said a colleague, Fr Jason Murphy, who works in school chaplaincy and guidance counselling in Cavan town had spoken out about the issue on many occasions, sometimes at the funeral of a young person.
“He speaks of the scourge of drugs throughout rural Ireland and how young people are been introduced to drugs at a very young age in order to get them addicted fast. These young people often don’t know the dangers of what is being offered to them.”
Two lessons to be learned, he suggested, were the need to support and resource families to help their loved one who has become addicted to illegal substances.
“We can’t imagine how frightening it is when a partner or son or daughter, brother or sister, present with the symptoms of addiction. There are many different reactions but mostly there is the feeling of shame – what will other people think of us and our family when this becomes known?”
He said there was also a strong feeling of anxiety that if a family did look for help, their loved one would quickly find themselves in trouble with the law or end up in jail for possession.
“There is also increasingly the threat of violence towards the family as gangs threaten the relatives of addicts to pay their debts.”
“This stigma which leads to much quiet suffering and fear needs to be dealt with if there is going to be any success in solving the issue of drug abuse and its associated violence in our communities. If families are given the proper assurances, support and protection they need then the care and intervention that only they can give can become a major factor in the rehabilitation of the addict,” he said.
The second issue Bishop Router highlighted was the need to see drug addiction as an urgent healthcare issue.
The Government’s National Drugs Strategy, he said, gave him hope as it recognised that drug addiction is a healthcare issue.
However, the auxiliary bishop of Armagh noted, “we still hear stories of seriously affected people not being able to access the healthcare that they need because those at the frontline are unsure of how to handle their case or they don’t have the resources to do so”.
He added, “If someone tripped and broke their ankle, we wouldn’t ask them to wait 12 weeks for treatment so why do we ask a heroin addict to wait 12 weeks in what is essentially a life-threatening condition.”
On International Family Drug Support Day, he said that those attending the conference were calling for the stated aims of the Government’s own policy to be implemented
“Drug use and addiction is first and foremost a healthcare issue and must be treated as such long before it becomes a legal issue.”
“We maintain that young people caught for the first time with drugs for their own use should not be criminalised but given the education, health advice and counselling they need to stop their use of drugs in its tracks and help them to keep their prospects open for future progress.”
A criminal record for such young people, who are often from socially deprived backgrounds, is counterproductive, particularly when drug pushers and members of the middle class who use drugs on a social basis often get away scot free, Bishop Router said.
Noting that the drugs strategy states that a partnership approach is necessary between the state bodies and the local voluntary bodies to plan a method of operating that is effective and long lasting, Bishop Router commended the work of the Family Addiction Support Network.
He implored those who have the power to do so to resource FASN’s work and to use their local knowledge and the experience that they have built up over the years, when they are formulating their own strategies.
“If that is done, then I think we could begin to bring about the real change that everyone is crying out for during these very challenging and anxious times,” he said.