With confirmation that cocaine is now the drug in demand in Mayo, we assess why it has become so popular and why people are so oblivious to the risks
The seizure in recent days of €34 million worth of cocaine disguised as charcoal destined for the Irish market demonstrates plenty about the drug and its prevalence in Irish society.
It shows the sophisticated methods that criminal gangs can go to in order to try to avoid detection – this was the first time this method of drugs smuggling has been detected here.
Gardaí believe the process used includes eliminating the smell of cocaine to render the drug undetectable to sniffer dogs and would entail a specialist chemist, most likely from South America, coming here to extract the cocaine from the charcoal.
But above all else it underscored the demand for the drug in Ireland; the market that exists.
That €34 million wasn’t coming here as an experiment to see if the interest is here; the very strong demand for the drug here is what led to such an elaborate drug smuggling operation.
And while gardaí may have made a substantial haul here, there can be no doubt that many more consignments of cocaine are making it into the country and being distributed in every town and village in this county without detection.
As Detective Superintendent Joe McKenna has pointed out at Mayo Joint Policing Committee (JPC) meetings, the international policing expectation is the most you will ever intercept is 10 percent.
The charcoal consignment intercepted might be over twice the value of all the cocaine seized here for all of last year but it remains easy to argue that multiples of that slip through in a country with long a long and often remote coastline.
We don’t have to look outside of Mayo to see the prevalence of cocaine.
Cocaine is now the drug in demand in Mayo, a fact confirmed by DS McKenna at each of the last two Mayo JPC meetings.
In April, €89,000 worth of the drug was seized in Cross while a follow-up search located €25,000 worth of cocaine in nearby Kilmaine.
In February, over €90,000 worth of the drug was seized in Ballinrobe while the same month saw €73,000 worth of the drug seized in Balla.
Use the ten percent guide and those figures don’t be long showing you the potential of the true worth of cocaine circulating in this county.
Buyers and sellers
As is frequently pointed out at the Mayo Joint Policing Committee meetings, as long as there are buyers, there will be sellers.
And while much of the focus of police investigations rightly focuses on the sellers – the suppliers – it can be argued that not enough focus is put on the buyers, those creating the demand.
Talking to those working at the coalface – gardaí on the frontline in the battle on drugs, those working in addiction, those working? – and you don’t long be getting a full picture.
Cocaine use pervades all stratas of society. It was put in stark terms by DS Joe McKenna when the accelerating problem was highlighted at a JPC meeting in September 2019.
“There are well educated people taking cocaine. There are gardaí taking it, councillors, teachers all taking it,” he said.
“It is no respector of class or creed,” Sr Dolores Duggan, Director at Hope House addiction treatment centre in Foxford told The Mayo News.
Those working on the front line in tackling cocaine agree that cocaine use is inextricably linked with alcohol.
As one garda working on the ground in the battle on drugs put it, ‘people often use cocaine because they want to keep drinking but they do not see or care about the risks’.
It was a point well made by DS Joe McKenna in 2019.
“People know what they are doing it when they take it, but they still take it. I’ve given talks to every school in Mayo and, if you will excuse me, I ask them how anyone can put something in their mouth that might have been in someone’s backside? There seems to be an invincibility there from people who take it,” said DS McKenna in 2019.
Not alone is there the risk of how it might have been carried but what is it in.
Gardaí in the county believe most cocaine in Mayo is around 50 percent pure. Whatever else is in there, well the buyer simply doesn’t know.
One garda put it starkly.
“If you were in a pub and asked for a pint and I gave you half a pint of beer and told you the rest was other random liquids and I wouldn’t tell you what they were, whether or not they had been inside me, would you drink it? No. But that’s what people are doing when they use cocaine.”
So strong is the Mayo market that gardaí believe several organised crime gangs are believed to be active here.
The drug, regardless of purity, has a current street value in Mayo of €100 a gram.
The pandemic has increased demand for cocaine it would appear with people turning to the drug to cope with unemployment and mental health issues.
The prosperity before the pandemic had also seen people pick up the habit and need to continue to feed that habit.
How socially acceptable it has become is a significant part of the problem, everyone involved in the fight against drugs will tell you.
“I have never seen a drug so socially acceptable as cocaine,” said Mayo TD Dara Calleary in 2019.
James Leonard, a youth support officer with the Cork Education and Training Board, told the Irish Independent earlier this year that their research showed cocaine use among young people and parents was ‘one of the biggest problems’ and that role models were too likely to be users too.
“In certain communities where the GAA or rugby team may be the pinnacle of the community, we found that cocaine use was very prevalent among sporting role models who young people there looked up to and this was having a big impact on drug use,” he said.
People at the coalface in Mayo say this is an issue here too.
One garda said he is familiar with teenagers spending hundreds of euro a week on their cocaine habit while there is plenty but for too many they don’t see or care about the risks involved.
They just want the upside and do not worry about the downside until it is out of control. As long as that trend continues, the problem of cocaine abuse is going to continue.