Thursday, December 8, 2011


Welcome to my new blog space,I hope that over the course of the coming months I will get a chance to post at least every couple of weeks and we get the chance to explore why the Heroin crisis in this country is an issue intrinsically linked with themes of social justice and equality. We will touch on idea's and themes which form the corner stone of equality, such as class, ability, disadvantage, gender, race and education. The aim in this is to develop a clear picture of how it is our systems produces in-equality and subsequently how this in-equality creates breeding grounds for hard drug use. 

I have posted this blog in the hope of reaching out to people who have a real interest in the drug problem and related issues in this country. In particular I have circulated it to professionals and volunteers who are linked with service provision, education and social care. Given the current drive for austerity, as we witness the dismantling of the community sector and in my opinion the impending failure of social partnership, I hope to provide a space that might stimulate thought about the wider issue of drugs. In the near future it may not be that we simply have to think about new ways to tackle drugs, but we may well have to find them, after all if things continue as they are how long will it take for the money to run out altogether?   

The aim really is to take a look at the Heroin crisis from a macro point of view, to step back from the individual tragedy of Heroin addiction and look at the problem at a broader societal level. It seems vital at this stage to clarify that I distinguish between the Heroin crisis and other drugs, based on the epidemiological dispersion of Heroin abuse in this country. Heroin was and is a drug of the poor, disadvantaged and socially excluded communities of our fair land. Its devastating impact has ravaged working class communities since the late seventies and despite the fact that research paper after research paper has identified the links between Heroin abuse and social exclusion twenty five years later it seems that we remain convinced if we can just treat enough addicts and not the social disease producing them, the problem will become a manageable one. In the words of Dr J Bradshaw, the first person to really investigate the Heroin problem in any meaningful way, "Multiple causes have been at work to produce the present epidemic of drug abuse, and it may be that one of them is a profound sickness in society. If so, the abuse may not abate until the sickness does."(J.Bradahaw, 1982)

After thirty odd years of band aid style interventions largely focused on treating the addicts, perhaps it is time to look and see if Heroin may be a symptom of poverty, poverty that has been institutionalized by our neo-liberal economic policy which is driven by an engine of corruption and greed. If we hope to tackle these broader societal questions, by necessity we will need to examine a range of subjects that are intrinsically linked to themes of equality and social justice.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Drug Of The Poor

As things stand our Government would have you believe in documents like the national drug strategy that the problem of heroin addiction is primarily a medical one and that it should be treated on an individual basis. Whilst I do not deny that addiction is a complex problem, with definite medical implications there is one glaringly obvious fact that successive governments have chosen to ignore, the  fact that heroin is not evenly dispersed in our communities.

If for instance over the last thirty years large proportions of the young people in one of our more affluent neighbourhoods had developed life threatening medical conditions, then it is reasonable to assume that our government would have investigated what it is in these neighbourhoods that was a contributing factor. That seems only sensible really, not a science fiction type analogy, quite simplistic. 

Why then is it that sucessive governments whom have identified heroin addiction as a medical problem have not gone to the neighbourhoods that are producing disproportionate amounts of heroin addicts to investigate. Why is it that they continuously fail to recognize this very simple and glaringly obvious fact, heroin is not even distributed in our country, it ravages very distinct communities and yet our government continues to address the problem on an individual basis. 

Why has very little time or money been put into finding out what it is about these communities that makes their young people suseptible to the charms of opiate abuse. Is it that really looking at this aspect of heroin in Ireland would open a can of worms, would it mean that we as a nation would have to face up to some stark facts about how we live, how we re-distributed wealth, facts about our education system, our social welfare system, facts about how we as a so called catholic country live in one of the most un-equal societies in the modern world and facts about how greed and neo-liberalism have widened this gap even further. 

If you want a window into the future then cast your eye across the atlantic to our neo-liberal cousins in America, a country where drugs have ravaged whole working class and ethnic communities. A country where in certain cities whole area's have been cut adrift and allowed to degenerate. Do not be fooled drugs have not and will not go away, they continue to change and develop and until we begin to address some of the fundamental questions of equality that define the neighborhoods in which they flourish, then things will continue to get worse. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Equality and Social Justice

There is a need to strike a balance in writing this blog between and academics and social commentary, one it seems is pointless without the other. To simply turn around and pronounce that we live in a sick society that is driven by inequality and social injustice and not be able to qualify those statements seems a waste of time. On the other hand there is the fear that the moral message of this blog gets lost in a litany of academia, that a whole audience gets isolated and switched off by windy academic arguments and examination. It is with this in mind that I will attempt to strike balance between the two, to find some middle ground. 

Heroin has been a part of Irish society now for nearly thirty years now, since its emergence in 1979, it has regularly featured in the media, social policy, academic research, criminal justice and political debate. In spite of all this attention from some of the most finely tuned minds of our small country, Heroin continues to ravage working class communities. In fact whilst there has been a leveling off of Heroin use in the greater Dublin area, a fact our Government is oh so proud of, Heroin has steadily migrated to urban communities outside of Dublin. In order to really understand this phenomena, to gain any real insight we need to look at the sociology of this problem, to see why it is we as a country have failed so miserably to tackle this issue.

So how then in simple terms is heroin an issue of social justice, is it just coincidence that the vast majority of heroin addicts come from working class backgrounds. Tend to grow up in the same urban housing estates and go to the same schools. My question is this, has it just become accepted that Heroin is a part of urban working class life, have we been so bombarded by the idea's of the state and their cronies that we are no longer willing to stand up and say enough is enough. They really want you to believe the main problem here lies with the individual, yes they will admit that society is not perfect, but heroin addiction they claim is primarily a medical/individual problem. 

My problem with this as a social researcher is a simple one, the numbers do not add up. If heroin is what they say then this problem would be dispersed in a very different way, it would range through the separate classes in a more equal spread, but it does not. Heroin is concentrated, so concentrated that it would take a fool not to recognize that a very distinct group of people (working class) produce by far the largest number of heroin addicts. The question then as a researcher is a simple one, what is it in these communities that makes it more likely you will become a heroin user?

Friday, October 14, 2011


It seems important to say that i do not believe that addiction and in particular heroin addiction is a simple problem that can be traced to one route cause and that if we simply fix or treat this cause it will go away. What i do believe is that successive governments have failed to look at one glaringly obvious aspect of the heroin crisis, because I believe that if they really did look it would reveal some disturbing facts about the un-equal society in which we live. 

Equality or in this case in-equality is produced and re-produced in our society in a number of ways, through systems that would perhaps surprise you. In recent times the study of equality has become far more main stream and there have been real advances in how we even measure and define equality. The paper listed in the bibliography for instance by Baker et al, from the UCD school of equality lays out some interesting ways in which we can think about equality in societal terms and I urge you to read it. 

Baker and his colleges identified three broad ways in which we can think about equality, basic equality, equality of condition and liberal egalitarianism. The complexity of how these are divided is beyond the scope of this discussion but i urge you to read the paper and think about it in relation to Irish society. Once you have ask yourself if we are even meeting up to idea's of basic equality in some of our urban working class neighborhoods, do they afford people basic respect, basic subsistence and protection against inhuman and degrading treatment? The answer to this question based on real life experience of living and working in these communities is a shocking one, particularly in the light of how much money was made in this country throughout the Celtic tiger era.

The same paper identifies a number of key social systems with in society that directly affect the level of equality. These fall under four main headings, economic, cultural, political and affective. As we go through the year I will cast a critical eye over each of these social systems in the hope of developing what it is about Irish society that makes it so un-equal, how the systems produce and re-produce this in-equality and how this directly affects the heroin crisis.    

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Economics of Neo-Liberalism

If we hope to get any sense of why things are the way they are in this country we need to take a look at how it is we have organised our economy. Everybody it seems is aware that we in Ireland live in a capitalist economy, the Celtic tiger it seems has lead to a level of awareness about economics that did not previously exist. Capitalism however takes a variety of forms and the particular type of capitalism that we have pinned our flag to is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Irish society in recent years.

For example if you where to bring up Margret Thatcher in polite conversation the reaction of your average Irish person is predictable, there is no love lost for her regime and yet very quietly successive Irish governments have practiced the same type of Neo-liberal economics that Thatcher boldly proclaimed "there is no alternative" to. I however believe there is an alternative, in fact if you have an ounce of social conscience then we must find an alternative, Neo-liberalism is not the only way, if the recent economic melt down has proved anything it is in fact that Neo-liberalism is not even a successful way to organize an economy. 

Again I have posted some interesting articles and links that really breakdown what this type of economics is all about, it is far right economics, that believes the market will take care of everything and that Governments should intervene in a minimal way. Compare this with another type of capitalism such as social democracy, which calls for high levels of state intervention in the provision of welfare, then take a look at levels of equality in the two different types of systems. Social democracy wins out on all counts, so you see Neo-liberalism is not the only way, it is just the way that you have been sold and had imposed on you by your Government. That may have seemed fine in boom times but those times are gone and yet the policies persist. 

One of the main producers of In-equality in our society is the type of Macro-Economic policy to which we have prescribed in recent years. It is impossible to separate this from civil society as this type of economic activity directly affects how our government organizes activity within the community sector. Thatcher in her defense (if that is possible) at least did not try to disguise what she was doing, she was up front in her attack on the poor and the working class. She openly broke the back of the unions and implemented welfare policy that was Neo-liberal in ethos. 

The Irish Government though it gals me to admit it may have been more subtle and in many ways more clever in how they sold us and subsequently imposed this type of organization upon us. Social partnership is a classic example of how our government got us to buy into the type of structures that have ultimately lead to the situation in which we find ourselves today. A situation where we see the decimation of the community sector, a drying up of funds available to a range of community groups and services, cut backs in health, education and welfare. The Neo-liberalists and doing what they always do, taxing the poor for their mistakes. Be under no illusions if like me you work, study or are involved in the community sector then neo-liberalism is a part of your everyday life, it is the system to which we answer. It is a corrosive thread that has wound its way into every aspect of Irish life and not just some fancy theoretical concept that exists only in the lofty halls of academia.  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Community Response

I have recently completed a proposal for a community response to the drug problem and thought it would be worth posting to give some sense of where it is that some of the answers may lie to the problems highlighted so far. Over the years I have heard many people give out about the current situation but offer no real alternative, I do not claim to have the answers but perhaps there is a way that together we could find them. have a read of the proposal below and think about it relation to your own community and the response to the drug crisis. 


Given the current economic situation in this country, with wide ranging austerity measures we are witnessing the dismantling of the community sector, projects are being closed and amalgamated and yet the problem of drugs which they were established to address continues to flourish.  Over successive years now the problem of drug abuse has been individualised and medicised, with most of the focus for activity being placed on individual service delivery, provided by large organisations and funded community projects. Little or no attention has been paid to the more sociological aspect of drug abuse in this country, the fact that it is concentrated in very specific communities and that these tend to be urban and working class. The individual medical model has meant that little has been done to address the underlying issues in these communities which make them a breeding ground for hard drug use. As we see the melt down of our economy and the subsequent drying up of funds available to these structures there has never been a better time for change, there is an opportunity to take back some control of the issue of drugs at a community level where the problem exists.  An opportunity to be a real voice for social change, for equality, after all as the system fails and our economy crashes is it not obvious now that the old way does not work.

The response to date by successive governments has been to expand the service delivery model and to continue to professionalise the drug sector. Whist I as a so called professional recognise the need for people who are skilled and trained in service delivery, I am also baffled by the head in the sand approach that has been taken to looking at the causal factors of addiction in our communities.  It does not take a genius or indeed even a sociologist to recognize that the drug problem, particularly Heroin is concentrated in very specific communities and that these have similar characteristics. What this means in very simple terms is that we have over the years treated the problem of addiction but never really addressed the causes. It is the classic chicken and egg scenario, we have continued to try and fix the broken eggs in the hope that someday the chicken will stop producing them. Heroin will never go away, it is here to stay but perhaps where we to look at what it is that is causing such huge numbers of our young people, in very specific communities, to use Heroin and other hard drugs, then we could being to stem the flow of new people into addiction, instead of just offering them treatment once they get there

The focus of this group I believe should be two fold, firstly we need to recognise the social aspect of drug use in Ireland, in recognizing that hard drug use is concentrated in communities like our own with very specific sets of social challenges and problems we then will have the chance to become a voice that calls for social change. It is no coincidence that Heroin and more recently crack cocaine flourish in neighbourhoods which experience, high un-employment, poor social housing, low educational achievement, high levels of abuse, histories of high levels of alcoholism and high crime rates. The very first person to investigate the first wave of heroin that struck this country, Dr John Brabshaw recognized this link, between social in-equality and drug use and yet nearly thirty years later not only has little been done to address the problem but the link between in-equality and drug use has been swept under the carpet again and again. Our government has a prevention pillar in the national drug strategy that fails to recognise the simple fact that if you want to prevent drugs then offer people opportunity, offer them equality, education, employment and a decent standard of living. If we are serious about tackling the drug issue in our community then we really need to recognize what is wrong in our community and become a voice that calls for change. If we continue to wait for our government to recognize and address these structural elements, then I contend that the wait will be a long one. So part of the work of this new group will be in advocacy, a voice for social change, for equality. If it is the system that is flawed, then the best time for change is surely during systemic melt down. Look around you what you see in Ireland today is the collapse of the current way of doing things, the time has never been better to find a new way, to recognize what is wrong with the old way and call for change.

There will I believe be a need to balance this type of advocacy work with the more practical issue of dealing with the drug issue on the ground. To date we have been sold a very specific model of delivering services to drug users which has been delivered by a professionalised drug service industry. As the money dries up we are already seeing the withdrawing of funds to this sector and a short fall in service delivery. For example during boom times there where a total of twenty seven detoxification beds available to upwards of 15,000 registered Heroin users, bear in mind this was the period when funds where available to these services. Now try to picture the future, as spending is cut to health, education and welfare can you imagine what will happen to drug services. Imagine what a government who was willing to provide only twenty seven beds in boom time will be willing to do as things continue to get worse. The future for this problem is not bright, it may well be that very soon we do not just have to think about new ways forward but we will need to find them. I believe that the answers to these question lie within the communities who are worst affected by the problems.

There is a vast amount of experience in all our communities when it comes to dealing with drugs, experience that has been overlooked and pushed aside by the professionalization of drug services. These services are now finding themselves in trouble, as the money runs out and services continue to close, where I ask will this leave the communities who depend on them to help their young people. Is it not possible that we, given the years of experience of drugs as a community, within our families, our homes, our schools and our localities could find some of the solutions to these problems? Local solutions, to local problems. There really has never been a better time for communities to unite and take a real look at what can be done to tackle the issue of hard drug use.