Getting off drugs was hard enough, but now a mother-of-two is fighting the authorities who want to evict her family from their flat because of the lingering stigma from her days as a ‘crack addict’.

fter seven years of being ‘clean’, the arrival of Covid and the breakdown in everyday routines was the start of Angela’s relapse to her old habits and she became hooked, again, on crack cocaine.

Her two daughters were taken away from her and she lost her car and her job. It was only when she was admitted to hospital, seriously ill, in July and was kept in for five weeks that she managed to pull herself back from the brink.

Her children are back living with her and she is back working again.

While in hospital, her house was broken into and ransacked. “They left it in bits. I have it cleaned up, It’s liveable and the kids like it here. It is their home,” she said.

Now she is fighting the authorities who want to evict her from the local authority property.

“Everyone else is helping me – I have a good support system now but the housing aren’t helping me,” she said. She is currently waiting to hear the outcome of a report from the Residential Tenancies Board.

But even now that she has managed to kick the habit, the drug is constantly on her mind.

“I get the taste of it in my mouth,” Angela said, smacking her lips. “There’s no taste really, but it’s just that gnawing feeling I get.

“You feel amazing for about 10 minutes, but it’s the most expensive drug there is. Heroin, a bag could last you a couple of hours, but crack you just want more and more of it.”

In Jobstown, in west Dublin, outreach workers are in despair at an epidemic within the pandemic.

Things have never been as bad for the vulnerable people who succumb to the drug, said Paula Mahon, a harm reduction project worker at the Jobstown Assisting Drug Dependency (JADD).

“I’ve been doing harm reduction for nine years and I never saw it worse,” she said. “There has been a massive deterioration. It used to be that when they started out on heroin, they seemed to be able to pull it back if they wanted to. But crack seems to rob them of their soul.”

She had given out 27 small new glass crack pipes that day alone.

It stops the users from sharing dangerous plastic pipes which emit chemicals that can add to their health problems in years to come as it causes them to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). “Crack lung, they call it,” said Paula.

One by one, crack users past and present come to tell us their stories – of the hardship that led them to crack and the desperation of life once the drug they call “rock” has them in their grip.

They speak of crack as a cottage industry, with one user revealing that he knows of 10 houses that are ‘washing crack’ – which means boiling up cocaine with additives like bleach and baking powder.

“Plenty of people in this country are using cocaine. Rock is the same thing only this is coke you smoke – but they call us crackheads,” he said.

Shane Hamilton, co-ordinator of the JADD project said the conversation about the crack cocaine epidemic in Jobstown is urgently needed. “Yes, the drug issue is the most important part but we have to look at the social aspectthe why,” he said.

“These are all very vulnerable people to begin with. And unfortunately, there is no pharmacological solution for crack cocaine addiction. There is no methadone for this – and so it’s about reducing the harm in the community and for the individual.”

A qualified electrical contractor who once owned his own business, Matt tells how he did drugs in his teenage years but was clean for 12 years.

Then a work injury led his GP to put him on Valium for pain relief. “The first one went down my throat and I was gone,” he said.

He went from having €70,000 savings in the bank as a deposit for a house with his fiancée to having “nothing”. “My life has no structure now. I don’t know how to put it back together,” he said.

“I used to play golf, I went on three or four different holidays a year. It’s all gone now. I’m just sitting on a bed all day, you just sit there crying. All I want to do is get back.”

At his worst, he was spending €300 a day and broke his foot climbing out a window at 2am trying to get crack. He said he just remembers “flashes” of it.

He is now working on reducing his usage, adding: “I’m a lot cleaner than I was.”

A former university history student with a keen interest in Egyptology and the Romans, Conor is still heavily using ‘rock’ and heroin but is desperate to quit. He has had a chest infection for the past four months that he cannot clear.

“I smoked heroin just before I came here but you wouldn’t know, would you?” he asked. “Heroin makes me feel normal. If I don’t have it, I am very sick. Heroin is now a medicine and a rock is a bonus.”

He spends his day ‘tapping’ or begging outside a shop to earn enough money for drugs. Conor rattles off the working hours of the 10 or so various dealers that he uses – people who work 8am to 8pm but might pass the phone to someone else for the night. They send out blanket texts like ‘best rock’, advertising their wares.

Maria fell back into addiction when she and her partner moved into a house next door to a crack dealer. “They were selling constantly. It was like a drive-through.”

She started shoplifting to pay for her habit, racking up a string of offences. “I thought I was invisible going into places robbing stuff,” she says. She ‘robbed’ baby food, baby clothes – “anything”, she said, selling it at the bus stop on her way home.

Now she and her partner are getting clean, but she worries.

“If you have money in your pocket, it’s very hard. The temptation – it’s everywhere around here.”
*Names have been changed

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