- 25 Jun 08
With heroin use spreading beyond Dublin, the country faces a new outbreak of drug addiction. But does the government have the will to tackle the crisis before it spins out of control?
As far as drug-related movies go, Better Things is just about the opposite of Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. Rather than likeable stoners playing silly satire, the stars of the downbeat Better Things are real-life heroin addicts playing Cotswold characters struggling with their addiction in a rural area of Britain more famous for luxurious holiday homes than its drug scene.
It’s hard to imagine this movie following Harold and Kumar to the top of the box office charts, though it did feature at last month’s Cannes Film Festival. In contrast to the Dublin-based antics of the sublime Adam And Paul, Better Things is set in a rural idyll, far away from the concrete crime jungle stereotypically associated with hard drug addiction.
The film’s director, Duane Hopkins, says he made the movie to call people’s attention to the rise of heroin addiction in rural areas. This is no abstract aim; for Hopkins, this is personal. “Every time I went back home, I’d hear that a friend had died from heavy drug use,” he says. “It was the same with my brother’s friends, so I started looking into it and realised it was happening in other areas of rural England.”
As Hot Press reported recently, Ireland is encountering the same rural rise in opiate addiction. Dr Jean Long, the head of the Alcohol and Drug Research Unit at the Health Research Board, said that there had been a “decrease in the number of new opiate cases who lived in Dublin” and speculated that the decrease indicates that the heroin epidemic has abated in the capital. However, calling for better treatment provisions beyond The Pale, she warned that “there was a 96% increase in the number of new opiate cases outside Dublin.”
The statistics suggest that while Dublin has reached a saturation point for heroin, the rest of the country is set to fuel the growth of the market for the next few years. Availability is rarely an issue. As a devastating 2005 British government study concluded, any shortage of heroin simply results in more impurities, as dealers cut the substance even more than usual.
These days, purity isn’t a problem. The explosion in Afghanistan’s poppy production has impacted on every industrialised country in the world, with some 95% of the global heroin supply emanating from the benighted central Asian nation. Whether or not the cash crop is grown for the benefit of the British and American occupiers – as the Russian intelligence service and others have claimed – Afghanistan’s most famous export is being dumped onto world markets in vast quantities.
This influx is reflected in the figures for the first six months of 2008, which put the value of heroin seizures at €16 million, more than even the cannabis haul (€15 million). Reports from around the country indicate that heroin is easily available in most parts of Ireland. Dr. Chris Luke from Cork University Hospital has warned of a flood of cheap heroin into Cork.
The first task facing drug workers is to make the problem visible and to achieve some level of public understanding of the issue of opiate addiction. While some drug addicts – alcoholics for example – elicit sympathy among the public, heroin addicts are often seen as the proverbial scum of the earth. Tony Geoghegan, Director of the Merchant’s Quay Project, says that people don’t tend to think about the issue until it affects someone close to them.
“It’s only when people are directly affected, through a family member or friend, that they are inclined to engage with the problem,” he reports. “Otherwise, people tend to take a very superficial view that people should simply stop taking it.”
Of course, not every heroin user is a hopeless addict, and this is another misconception which clouds public understanding.
“Addiction is a complex issue,” Geoghegan proffers. “Of 10 people who might dabble with heroin, only one might become addicted. We need to unpack the factors involved in the process of addiction. We need to be more sympathetic.”
If Duane Hopkins and others who have been personally touched by the issue can succeed in increasing public awareness, and if organisations like Merchant’s Quay Project secure more desperately needed frontline services, there may indeed be some hope of Better Things for the abandoned heroin addicts of rural England and Ireland alike.