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An Epidemic In Our Clubs!

Published 8 months ago 24th December 2021 by Big John

“There’s none so pure as a reformed whore”! That was a reaction I heard from an acquaintance of mine when we were discussing the recent article by former Limerick hurler and current addiction counsellor, Ciaran Carey, on the problem of recreational drugs in the community and in sport. The Irish always love to shoot the messenger.
Another friend of mine recently suggested to his club that they should host a Drug Awareness evening for all the
players from u15 to senior but was told if they were to do that that they might as well put a sign on the gate saying “Drug Problem Here”.

Over the past year and a half we have bitched and moaned about people who ignored the rules around the Covid-19 pandemic, but for years we have all ignored an epidemic that has being happening in our communities and clubs.
A recent study has shown that Ireland has the third highest cocaine use in Europe behind Spain and the UK and according to the Health Research Board (HRB), cocaine is now the most common drug among new cases entering treatment. The number of people seeking treatment for cocaine addiction trebled between 2014 and 2020, from 853 to 2,619.

While we privately acknowledge that drugs are everywhere these days, it takes someone with the courage and expertise of Ciaran Carey to say it publicly and draw attention to the uncomfortable truth that most of us would prefer not to deal with.

Over the past week I have spoken to a number of publicans in a few different towns around the county. They all confirmed that for a lot of young people these days, snorting cocaine or taking a tablet is as much a part of a night out as having a pint. One publican told me that in years gone by we used to see girls going to the toilet in pairs but these days you see the fellas going in pairs and in most cases you can be sure they are not just going there for a chat. He said that while most publicans are doing their best to police their own premises there is only so much they can do. Anecdotally he has even heard of publicans putting WD40 on the cistern of the toilets to prevent it being used as a surface for snorting cocaine.

We used to associate cocaine use with “high fliers” in cities and large towns but these days it has reached every small town and village in rural Ireland and in every small town and village you have a sports club, be it GAA, soccer, rugby or some other sport. You would want to be an astonishingly naive individual to think that cocaine or some other form of drug use is not happening in your club. It may well be a small minority of people in the club that are using but you can be sure it is happening.

I can only talk from a GAA perspective as that is the association I’m most familiar with and in my opinion the GAA are only paying lip service to the problem of drugs. In 2006, the GAA, in conjunction with the HSE, put together The Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Programme (ASAP). They updated this document in 2016 and it’s now called the Health and Wellbeing Manual. Both programmes recommended that each club appoint at least one dedicated ASAP/Health and Wellbeing officer. Fifteen years later, I’m not aware of one in my own club and from speaking to people in other clubs they are not aware of one in their club either. If they are there, it’s obviously just a “tick the box” appointment.

While the GAA rules state that any player (club or inter-county) can be selected for drug testing, since drug testing was introduced by the GAA in 2001, the focus has been on testing inter-county players and yet 75% of inter-county players can go through their career without ever being tested.
The GAA needs to take a stand and show real leadership here. It needs to significantly ramp up its testing at inter-county level while also introducing testing at club level. The fear of getting caught is still the number one deterrent. Croke Park also needs to assist clubs and put in place education programmes and initiatives to tackle this crisis before it is too late.

No doubt there would be a lot of opposition to introducing drug testing at club level. Some will see it as very unfair if a young player was banned because he may have taken something stupid while out for a few pints in college during the week. It may well be harsh but if we are to tackle the problem then surely a zero tolerance approach is the best way forward. If drug testing was introduced at club level, you would soon find that the more experience members of the team would start helping and advising the younger more vulnerable members and before long saying no to drugs becomes embedded as part of a club culture. Positive peer pressure is surely an important tool in tackling this problem.

Here is the simple truth about drugs. They work! A night in the pub having a few beers can be hit or miss but you are guaranteed a buzz from drugs and that is the attraction. The reality is that a lot of teenagers will experiment with cocaine or other drugs and most will grow out of that phase as they get older but for some they will become addicted and feel that they can’t function without the drug.

I recently watched an interview with 60’s pop-star Marianne Faithful. She started using drugs very occasionally at 20 years of age. By the time she was 23 she was sleeping rough on the streets of London with a needle in her arm. The people who she had started using with were able to take or leave the drugs but for her it ruined her life. That is how quickly addiction can take hold and destroy.

This year the GAA launched the Feile u15 hurling and football competitions with the banner headline “No Man Is Left Behind”. As club members we all have a responsibility to educate both ourselves and our youngsters on the dangers of drugs to ensure that none of our club mates are left behind. Isn’t that what we as Gaels pride ourselves on? We shouldn’t shirk our responsibility just because we might feel uncomfortable dealing with a taboo subject. The long term future of our organisation may well depend on what actions we take now.

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