Friday 15 December 2017

The middle-class Irish teens who have everything -- but still succumb to drugs

After the death of a 15-year-old at a London party, parents everywhere fear for their children's well-being

Friends of Isobel Reilly, who died on Saturday morning after taking drugs at a house party, hold a vigil and lay flowers at a park in Chiswick, west London.
Friends of Isobel Reilly, who died on Saturday morning after taking drugs at a house party, hold a vigil and lay flowers at a park in Chiswick, west London.

Celine Naughton

Last Saturday, 15-year-old Isobel Reilly, a popular student loved by family and friends, died after taking drugs at a house party.

The setting was as far from the drugs world as you could expect -- a comfortable home in a leafy London suburb where parents Brian Dodgeon, a university lecturer, and his partner Angela Hadjipateras allowed their 14-year-old daughter Beatrice to host a party for 10 friends while they went out for the night.

Meanwhile, parents on both sides of the Irish Sea are left wondering what if . . .

Is it happening here? This is the kind of thing that you read about in troubled city tenements -- surely not on the manicured lawns of the middle classes?

"It's been happening here for a long time," says Sadie Grace, co-ordinator of the Family Support Network (FSN) which helps families affected by drugs. "Drugs are not confined to Ireland's inner cities, they're everywhere.

"It's just more difficult for wealthy parents to accept that their kids are using, because they don't expect it to happen. Perceptions are warped."

It was reported that before the fateful night she died, Isobel Reilly had already tried drugs having learned about them on the internet.

Grace goes further: "Dealing used to be done on the streets. Now mobile phones and the internet have made buying drugs as easy as dialling for a pizza."

There is no doubt that these are challenging times for the Garda Drug Squad and, as British police investigate whether the drugs that killed Isobel Reilly had been left in the house by owner Brian Dodgeon, gardaí here warn parents not to be complacent.

A Garda source says, "Some parents smoke cannabis openly and with that kind of culture in the home, the likelihood is that the kids will experiment themselves.

"These children are the collateral damage of their parents' drug-taking.

"Cannabis is perceived as a lesser drug, but it is addictive. A small bag costs about €50 and I've seen people take up to five bags a day, so it can be an expensive habit and, in my experience, if you're experimenting with cannabis at 15, it is very likely that you will try harder drugs later on.

"Worryingly, many teenagers view cocaine and ecstasy as harmless drugs. With 90% of the crime in this country stemming from drug-dealing, it's crucial that parents across all social divides get through to their children the dangers of using drugs."

But before we rush in with the lectures, Dr Bobby Smyth, Senior Lecturer at Trinity College Dublin's Department of Public Health and Primary Care, urges parents to look at their own habits before shaking their heads at the younger generation.

"My strongest advice to parents is to delay their children's drinking for as long as possible," he says. "This means supervision and monitoring, rewarding them when they stick to the rules and reining them back in when they break them.

'Studies show that the earlier a person starts drinking alcohol, the more likely they are to take other drugs.

"We have a long tradition of alcohol intoxication in this country, yet parents who haven't grown up with drugs wouldn't have a clue if their son or daughter has taken a few tablets or a line of coke with their booze on a night out."

For those children who do get caught up in the nightmare of addiction, a lucky few end up at the Aislinn Centre in Ballyragget, Co Kilkenny, Ireland's only residential centre for addicted 15 to 21-year-olds.

With only 12 places on its six-week programme, referrals come from every social strata throughout the country.

"Addiction knows no social boundaries," says clinical manager Raymond McKenna.

"Most of the adolescents we treat start by abusing alcohol, which lowers inhibitions and paves the way for them to start using other drugs including ecstasy, mephedrone ('meow meow'), head shop drugs and prescription drugs like painkillers and sedatives.

"Cannabis is a huge problem at this age as it affects their physical, mental and emotional development. You end up with a 19-year-old at the emotional level of a 13-year-old."

His colleague Breda Cahill, general manager of Aislinn, sees the devastation drugs cause to families. "It's terribly sad to see our young adolescents being destroyed," she says.

"These are the children who once ran about the house as infants, laughing and sitting on their parents' laps. Now they're lost, lonely and isolated."

Although Forest Healthcare in Co Wicklow treats adults, principal psychologist and manager Colin O'Driscoll handles many enquiries from worried parents.

"There is a huge need for public information about the prevalence of drugs, what drugs are out there, the effects they have and how to spot them," he says. "Then parents need to talk to their children about the risks involved, from the time the kids start secondary school."

But where do you turn to if you know little or nothing about drugs? Sadie Grace (FSN) urges parents to trust their instincts. "If your gut feeling tells you something is wrong, you're probably right," she says.

"It's important for parents to look out for the classic signs of drug-taking -- losing interest in the way your child looks, changing friends and always looking for money, for instance.

"If in doubt, pick up the phone or check our website. We're available 24-7 for anyone who needs us."

For further information: www.aislinn.ie www.fsn.ie www.forest.ie

Irish Independent

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