It happens time and again in Limerick when young people end up in court charged with offences related to drugs or drink: parents profess shock at the discovery that their children are no longer – as they had firmly believed – pure as the driven snow.
Our special focus on drugs, alcohol and Limerick’s youth this week is aimed squarely and unashamedly at local parents, particularly those who refuse to believe that their kids could abuse drugs or drink.
No less an authority than Chief Superintendent David Sheahan, head of the Limerick garda division, makes it abundantly clear that all local parents should be extremely mindful of the dangers posed by drugs and alcohol in today’s fast-changing world, where peer pressure has never been more pervasive.
Noel Malone, principal of the progressive Colaiste Chiarain in Croom, is under no illusions about how vulnerable young people are, not least because schools throughout the region can be left to address the havoc caused when young children take substances, including alcohol, which their bodies are ill-equipped to cope with.
Reporter Fintan Walsh has interviewed many young people – some of them underage – who drink to excess or take banned drugs on a regular basis.
Some readers might be taken aback by what they have to say, but this is modern life in our city and county, unvarnished. Underage drinking is rife, drugs are easily sourced.
What is particularly worrying – if not surprising – is the ease with which children can get access to alcohol, or drugs like cannabis and ecstasy.
We do not seek to sensationalise, merely to inform parents of what is going on under our noses, reminding them that they have a responsibility to protect the welfare of their children. Being informed about what is going on beyond their doorsteps is part of that responsibility.
Among the eyecatching statistics revealed by Chief Superintendent David Sheahan in is the halving of cocaine seizures by local gardai between 2007 and 2012. The earlier year, of course, was the peak of Celtic Tiger excess and it is hardly a surprise. If this has created a gap in the local drugs market, it has been more than filled by less expensive cannabis. That a massive 69% of the referrals to the city-based Community Substance Misuse Team are young people hooked on cannabis tells its own worrying story.
Despite this, even seasoned gardai like Sergeant Seamus O’Neill make the point that the biggest problem substance of all for young people in the Limerick of 2013 is alcohol.
With Christmas almost upon us, we urge parents to be vigilant. A few drinks might not seem that much of a big deal, but the real-life stories in our coverage this week tell a salutory tale. It is that young people have never been more vulnerable.