HARD-working families are being intimidated into taking out emergency loans to pay off their children's drug debts, a Dublin seminar has heard.
One community drugs project has said eight out of ten families coming to them for help have been affected by such intimidation, and that many families didn't know their child had been involved in drugs.
The typical scenario involves a young person being supplied with drugs on the promise that they will be paid for in the near future, but when the 'debt' hits around €200 the young person struggles to pay and exorbitant 'interest rates' traps them into a debt they can never escape.
"We've heard of families getting into debt or handing over their cars to dealers to get them off their backs," said Liam Collins of the Fettercairn Drug Rehabilitation Project, Tallaght.
"There is a massive fear-factor used by drug gangs when trying to get money from families. People can't sleep at night with worry that their house might be shot at or their car targeted," he told the Herald.
The rising levels of such intimidation were highlighted at the recent Vision of Justice for Tallaght seminar which hopes to build community-led solutions to problems in the community.
"I heard of one family who got a call to the door looking for more than €10,000 for a cocaine debt their grown-up child had run up. They didn't have a clue that their child was even involved in drugs," he said
"If families don't pay, they're told 'we have ways and means of making you pay' and then they are in fear," he explained.
Another drug project volunteer said debts expand rapidly when not paid.
"When a €200 debt hasn't been called in for a few weeks, people might think they have got away with it, but then they get word that it has gone up to €300 or €400, and it might go up by 25pc a week until it is paid," he told the Herald.
"These families are not only fearing for their child who is in debt to a drug dealer, but they fear for their younger children who are walking to school."
Crime figures from the CSO show that recorded cases of harassment in Ireland have risen from 974 in 2004 to 1,744 in 2012.